Reactions to Wolf’s budget proposal

From staff reports

Here are several reactions to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2017-18 state budget from area lawmakers, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association and the State System of Higher Education.

State Sen. Scott Hutchinson

“It’s a work in progress, definitely. There are a few good things in there,” said state Sen. Scott Hutchinson, a Republican from Oil City. “I am glad that he is focused upon finding efficiencies in state government. Whether we end up doing the ones he wants is another question, but we are going to have to dig into those details.”

Hutchinson added that he is “a little bit concerned because there are $1 billion in tax increases. It’s not the personal income tax or sales tax, however there is a severance tax in there, some expansions of the sales tax — things that really are not good policy for our state. We are going to have to work on that too.”

The senator also said “pension reform is such a huge cost driver across the board, until we tackle that everything else is a short-term band aid. Pension reform is a priority of mine, and it is something we must do sooner rather than later. It will require leadership from the governor to finally tackle this issue.”

State Rep. R. Lee James

“The governor’s budget proposal represents his priorities. The Legislature now will review that proposal in an effort to determine how reasonable it may be,” said state Rep. R. Lee James, a Republican from Oil City.

James added that one of his priorities “will be to continue fighting for adequate funding for our state-owned universities. State universities, like Clarion University and the other schools in the state system, provide advanced educational experiences at competitive prices. Our state-owned universities are preparing the next generation of workers and leaders in Pennsylvania.”

He also said “the governor’s continued push for a new tax on homegrown natural gas production raises some serious concerns and could threaten Pennsylvania jobs. I believe state government should create an atmosphere that promotes private-sector job creation, and I will review the governor’s budget proposal with that aim in mind.”

State Rep. Donna Oberlander

Calling it a good step toward restarting Pennsylvania government, state Rep. Donna Oberlander, a Republican from Clarion, said she is optimistic the budget process can work by being responsive to those who pay the bills.

“The overriding message of the governor’s budget address was that he’s listening, and that’s a refreshing change from the past two years,” Oberlander said. “The budget process the governor has used the past two years just doesn’t work, and it’s time to restart it so that we can better prioritize state services and programs and be more accountable,” she added.

“I’m very interested in looking at the details of (Wolf’s) proposals to ensure that we get the biggest bang for our buck while also ensuring services are delivered in the best possible way,” Oberlander said. “One thing we cannot do is maintain the system as we always have. To make a change of this scale is going to require leadership, and I know we are up to that difficult task.”

Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association

Dan Weaver, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, had this to say about the governor’s proposal to include a 6.5 percent natural gas severance tax in the budget proposal.

“The governor and state lawmakers who are seeking again to impose a severance on natural gas production are ignoring a fundamental market reality with this ill-advised proposal: the low energy prices that people across the state are enjoying continue to translate into very difficult times for natural gas producers that would be made far worse with an additional tax burden,” Weaver said.

“This is the same market reality that existed during the last discussion about imposing an additional tax on natural gas production, and that will exist for the near future,” Weaver added. “This market reality means that a 6.5 percent severance tax rate would have a huge detrimental impact on natural gas development and jobs, while raising very little revenue to make even the slightest dent in Pennsylvania’s current and projected budget deficits.”

State System of Higher Education

Cynthia D. Shapira, the Board of Governors chairwoman for the State System of Higher Education, said “we are so appreciative that both the governor and the General Assembly recognize the immense value of the State System and continue to support our universities and our students. That support represents an important investment in Pennsylvania’s future, one that pays huge dividends for the entire commonwealth.”

A recent economic impact study estimates that the State System generates $11 in economic activity across Pennsylvania for every dollar it receives in state funding – an annual impact of nearly $7 billion, Shapira said.

State System chancellor Frank T. Brogan said “the increased funding recommended by Gov. Wolf would be welcome during these extremely challenging times. We are grateful for his support and for that of the General Assembly, especially at a time when the commonwealth is facing significant challenges of its own.”