HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania governor said Wednesday he is suspicious about revenue numbers in the budget passed by Republican majorities in the Legislature that now awaits action by Gov. Tom Corbett.
Tom Wolf told The Associated Press that he believes the budget was built on “smoke and mirrors” and dubious assumptions about how much money the state will collect in the coming year, including $95 million from leases for natural gas drilling under state parks and forests.
Republicans are also projecting a rosy 3.5 percent increase in revenue collection in the new fiscal year. The just-ended fiscal year’s tax collections were slightly below the previous year’s.
“I think it’s more than just one-time transfers,” said Wolf, who served for about a year and a half as state revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell. “I think there is some game playing going on here.”
Corbett, a Republican, has not indicated whether he will sign the $29.1 billion budget that was approved on nearly party lines in both chambers.
Wolf said he would balance the budget by imposing a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas drilling, expanding Medicaid under the 2010 federal health care law and closing tax loopholes.
“I think those three things would take us a very, very long way with bridging this immediate budget gap that we have right now,” Wolf said.
He predicted that if Corbett signs the budget it will serve to increase next year’s deficit, but stopped short of saying he should veto it.
“I would not presume to instruct the governor, but this is a budget that I think is a logical consequence of the failed leadership and failed policies that he’s promoted for the past four years,” Wolf said.
Wolf sidestepped a question about whether he supports another proposal pending as lawmakers rush to finish up before leaving Harrisburg for the summer: legislation to authorize Philadelphia officials to impose a $2-per-pack cigarette tax increase to help close a deficit in the state’s largest school district.
“It’s a shame that we put places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and cities like York in situations … where, because of the way we fund public schools, they have to make these terrible choices,” he said. “And I think part of what they’re facing in all those school districts is a lack of adequate and fair state funding.”
Wolf said he has been in touch with legislative Democrats as the budget scenario has unfolded, three days into a new fiscal with its status in limbo.
“Whoever the next governor is, is going to have to work through the consequences of a budget that doesn’t have adequate revenues and adequate thought isn’t being given to how the money is being spent,” he said.
A Franklin and Marshall College poll released Wednesday indicated Wolf was holding a 47 percent to 25 percent lead over Corbett, a margin similar to what other surveys have found. The poll of 502 registered voters over June 23-29, also found 27 percent were undecided. Its sample error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Wolf said he was concerned about complacency among his support with four months left in the race.
“I know this is what candidates are supposed to say, but I really worked hard to get to this point,” he said.