HARRISBURG (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf took his campaign for a state budget with more education funding to Allentown on March 6, while school superintendents got a letter from Republican Senate leaders warning them not to count on the new money.
Wolf said people across the state have told him they want schools — and property tax relief — to be priorities, and he emphasized the role schools play in the state's economy.
“If we want a strong economy, we need a good education system," Wolf said.
The letter sent this week by four high-ranking Republican state senators advised districts not to factor in Wolf's proposal as they craft preliminary budgets.
“We recognize the difficult task school administrators have in making decisions about anticipated revenue from the commonwealth given that the full extent of the governor's proposed increases may not be contained in the commonwealth's final budget," wrote Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, and three other leaders. “The Senate remains committed to addressing the underlying fiscal cost drivers of school districts, most importantly pension reform."
Wolf has proposed higher state taxes on sales, income, natural gas drilling and tobacco products, money that would plug a massive deficit and finance more than $4 billion in new education funding, corporate tax cuts, aid to school districts to cut property taxes and rebates for low-income renters.
But the GOP senators said $4.7 billion in proposed tax increases are “unsupported throughout the General Assembly."
Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said the governor knew some lawmakers would not agree with aspects of his proposal and solicited their own ideas.
“This is not that," Sheridan said. “This is the opposite of an idea. This is a political stunt."
Most superintendents already are being conservative in their budget planning, said Jim Buckheit of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.
“Overall, they're certainly very supportive" of Wolf's proposal, Buckheit said. But, “people are realistic about politics in Harrisburg and what to expect."
By Wolf's count, his plan would increase overall state spending through the state's main bank account by less than 3 percent to $29.9 billion. Counting pension obligations and collections for school property tax relief, the increase is about 16 percent, to $33.7 billion.
Legislative budget hearings begin in Harrisburg this week, the start of a process of developing budget legislation that usually passes in June or July.