Governor candidate says state's share of education costs should increase
Democratic governor candidate Tom Wolf said he would push for a 5 percent natural gas extraction tax and cybercharter school reforms to increase public school funding and would swap a higher state income or sales tax for lower school district taxes.
Speaking Wednesday during a meeting with the editorial board of The (Scranton) Times-Tribune, a sister publication of The News-Item, Wolf, a York County businessman, said the state should pick up half the cost of public school education, but its share remains stuck at about a third, with local school districts paying the rest.
To increase the state share, he would increase the 3.07 percent income tax or the 6 percent sales tax and use the new revenues to lower real-estate taxes. Similar proposals remain languishing in the state General Assembly.
"It would be revenue-neutral," Wolf said. "Part of, I think, the problem with public education and the way we fund it is there's too much of a reliance on the local property tax."
To make up for $1 billion lost when federal economic stimulus funding disappeared a few years ago, he said he would take the approximately $350 million saved in reform of cybercharter school funding and couple that with the $600 million to $700 million raised by the gas extraction tax.
Wolf said he would focus on ensuring students in districts across the state get a good education by making sure districts have the funding they need to accomplish that.
Wolf is one of four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for governor in the May 20 primary election. His television commercial campaign since late January has thrust him into a polling lead as large as 30 percentage points over the other Democrats.
On infrastructure, Wolf said he wants to fix roads and bridges, but also wants to develop a modern transportation system that more quickly connects the state's far-flung corners. That could include developing a passenger railroad system or some still undiscovered system of transportation, he said.
"An investment in transportation infrastructure is going to be a job creator," he said. "I know one of the things here in Scranton is figuring out how to connect this area with New York. ... That's a Pennsylvania-wide issue. How do we connect the different regions of Pennsylvania together? It still takes entirely too long to go from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, entirely too long to go from Scranton to Philadelphia. You can't even get to Erie from most parts of Pennsylvania. The transportation system we have in place was designed mainly in the 19th century."
He also wants to use the state's interstate highway system to attract new jobs.