State police fee back on the table in Wolf’s budget address
While local lawmakers applaud Gov. Tom Wolf for not requesting a tax increase during his budget address, they still have concerns about his proposals.
On Tuesday Wolf proposed a $34 billion spending plan. The proposal includes investments in education and early childhood development and calls for the creation of the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center.
His proposal also includes a sliding scale to help fund the state police.
Municipalities with no local coverage would have to pay $8 per capita for fewer than 2,000 residents. The fee increases to $166 per capita for municipalities with more than 20,000 residents.
Republican state Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar said the fee is essentially a per-person tax on rural Pennsylvania, which he calls an unfair shift.
“People in Philadelphia use the state police as do the people in Somerset County,” he said. “I simply can’t abide by that.”
He said he agrees with some of the governor’s education proposal.
“I think that the governor’s commitment to education (which is) more centered on jobs available and not just education for education’s sake is a smart step,” he said.
Metzgar said that although Wolf hasn’t proposed new taxes, actual spending is closer to a 7 percent increase when he looks at proposed fund transfers.
“That far outpaces inflation,” he said.
Republican state Sen. Pat Stefano said that while no new taxes and education spending are important, he still has some concerns.
“Those were some great words we heard,” he said. “What concerns me is what is in the fine print.”
Stefano is concerned that the governor may introduce a severance tax on natural gas, despite the fact that he did not address it during the joint session.
“We cannot attack a single industry,” he said.
He added that if one looks at the state police fee, it appears as if Wolf is sending conflicting messages.
“We can’t charge for state police only to rural communities,” he said. “Those are tax increases.”
Stefano said that if Pennsylvania is going to look at a minimum wage increase, it needs to be slow and deliberate. Wolf is proposing to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $12 per hour on July 1. The wage would grow by 50 cents annually until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025.
“You can’t just jump to $12 an hour — it will kill our small businesses,” Stefano said.
Stefano said that the minimum wage is a great training wage for young people.
“You just eliminated all the young people,” he said. “If you are paying $12, $14 or $15 an hour, it will need to be skilled labor. It’s a really big concern.”
Stefano said the tone of Wolf’s speech has led him to believe that lawmakers and the governor will be able to come to a compromise and pass a budget by the June 30 deadline.
“You can tell by the tone of the address that he has more of an attitude of cooperation,” he said.