Tax and Budget

In his budget address, Governor Wolf observed that Pennsylvania faces a choice of two paths. Taking one path would require us to deal with the reality of our structural deficit and raise revenues to close it. It would enable government to continue to meet its responsibilities to educate our children, serve those who need our help, protect the environment and encourage economic growth. Taking the other path would require us to accept devastating cuts to education and health and human services.

The ideas in this document were compiled by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center based on our own work and that of our partner, the Keystone Research Center, and that of advocates on many issues. The names of our partners are in our letter to the Governor and the members of the General Assembly.

Budget numbers are always difficult to understand, not least because those with different perspectives can present the numbers in sharply different, but honest ways. In the context of the state’s still-unfinished 2105-16 budget, this brief presents a series of careful “apples-to-apples” comparisons of the three budgets in play in Harrisburg last year: Governor Wolf’s budget proposal, the Republican budget and the bi-partisan budget agreed to by Governor Wolf and the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties in the General Assembly.

In a democracy, public policy is ideally made after extensive public deliberation and debate. Deals made in private and announced at the last minute make it impossible for citizens to understand and evaluate the actions of their legislators or for advocates to mobilize citizen opinion on the critical issues of the day. Unfortunately, the last few days have given us two striking examples of the failure to live up to this fundamental democratic norm.

As of December 10, 2015, the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Budget is still not done. Two different budgets are now before the General Assembly. In this brief, we provide an overview of the differences between the two budgets, looking first at critical differences in spending for education and human services, then at the impact of those differences, and finally at some subtleties in how the two budgets organize  and present certain spending choices they have in common and how this affects the bottom line budget numbers

It appears that legislators have decided to raise new, and necessary, revenue by expanding the sales tax base to include more goods and services instead of increasing the sales tax rate. There are good reasons to broaden the base of the sales tax, if it is done in ways that make the tax more equitable. But a broader sales tax is still likely to fall more heavily on low-income families. Legislators can limit the burden on those least able to bear it by coupling the sales tax expansion with a new refundable sales tax credit.

With ongoing negotiations over the state budget focused on property tax cuts, and the State Senate taking up a bill to eliminate property taxes, this briefing paper compares property tax elimination with two more targeted approaches that would reduce, but not eliminate property taxes: the Republican proposal that passed the Pennsylvania House in May (House Bill 504) and Gov. Wolf’s original proposal from March.

We find that property tax elimination would raise taxes on the middle class to give wealthy homeowners and businesses in wealthy communities a tax break. Both targeted approaches would be better for the middle class, but the Wolf proposal would be the best for moderate-income homeowners and would also cut non-residential property taxes the most in lower-income communities, a potential boost to community revitalization.

Gov. Wolf and legislative leaders are currently negotiating over the terms of a plan to cut property taxes which would be financed by an increase in the state sales tax rate from 6% to 7.25%. This brief analyzes the size of the sales tax rate increase by income. It also compares that impact to how much different income groups would pay with an increase in the state personal income tax rate from 3.07% to 3.57%, as proposed by Gov. Wolf in October and rejected by the Republican legislative majority and nine Western Pennsylvania Democrats.

Monthly archive