PHILADELPHIA – Republican Gov. Tom Corbett attacked Democratic challenger Tom Wolf’s plan to shift more of Pennsylvania’s income tax onto the wealthiest taxpayers, saying it is skimpy on details and faces legal and political obstacles that likely would prevent it from becoming law.
In an interview with an Associated Press panel Wednesday, the incumbent dissected the centerpiece of Wolf’s “Fresh Start” campaign agenda but advanced no initiatives of his own.
“Mr. Wolf’s promises are the promises of the past. It’s not a fresh start,” he said. “It’s a return to promises of (former Gov.) Ed Rendell, who he worked for, and it would increase greater burdens on business and greater burdens on individual taxpayers of Pennsylvania.”
Corbett, who polls show trailing in his re-election bid, charged Wolf’s plan to overhaul the 43-year-old income tax violates a section in the state constitution that says “all taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects.”
Wolf wants to raise the tax rate to a level that he declines to specify, exempt an unspecified level of income for all taxpayers and impose the full rate on the most affluent taxpayers. The former state revenue secretary and wealthy businessman said he cannot provide the missing details because he lacks access to current state tax data.
“We keep asking: Where are the facts?” Corbett said. “Why can’t you at least come up with how do you think it’s constitutional? How do you think you can change the law? Are you going to do a directive on your own, or are you going to get that through the legislature?”
To make his plan law, Wolf would have to amend the constitution, a cumbersome process requiring approval by two successive legislatures and a statewide referendum, or seek legislative approval, which would likely prompt a court challenge that leaves the bill in limbo indefinitely, Corbett said.
“I don’t think it’s likely to pass in the courts, but I don’t think it’s likely to pass in the Legislature,” Corbett said.
The Wolf campaign said Thursday the governor “has no credibility on anything and we aren’t interested in his analysis.”
“Tom Wolf believes his proposal, that calls for a single rate and a single exemption for all taxpayers regardless of income level, is constitutional. (It) would be the first tax break for middle- and low-income Pennsylvanians in decades,” spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said.
The governor also questioned the feasibility of Wolf’s plan to use income-tax revenue to increase the state’s share of public education funding. School districts that receive the state money would be required to make dollar-for-dollar reductions in their property taxes.
Increasing the state’s share from the present one-third to Wolf’s goal of 50 percent would require several billion dollars a year.
Corbett, who converted his unsuccessful legislative push for public pension rollbacks into a major campaign theme, said Wolf’s proposal is flawed because the mushrooming cost of Pennsylvania’s major public pension systems is “the driver” behind soaring property taxes.
Wolf “has no control at the state level of what is going to be expended. (School boards) pick the spending number,” he said.
“He can’t come through on those things,” Corbett said. “It’s … fiscally irresponsible for him to even say it because he creates false hope.”
Asked about his initiatives for a second term, Corbett said he is working on “a couple” of proposals but declined to provide details. He said his campaign would make them public before the Nov. 4 election “if we decide to go forward” with them.
Corbett also expressed interest in the possibility of allowing the state government to participate in contract negotiations for employees of the state’s 500 school districts on at least the issue of health coverage.
Most of the tens of thousands of state employees have the same insurer, he said, and consolidating health coverage for school employees could yield significant savings.
“Common sense dictates that there’s going to be savings there,” he said. “It could be one plan; it could be six plans.”