(Jun 5) OFF THE FLOOR: Two Democrats tout tax hikes as needed to fund education.

Bureau Chief

HARRISBURG (June 5) – A pair of long-time rivals both toured the state Capitol on Tuesday to tout raising taxes to fund K-12 state public education funding.

Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz and the man he tried repeatedly to oust from his former post, former House Democratic Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans – both Philadelphia Democrats – said it is time to enact new taxes to restore state education funding.

Both Evans and Butkovitz said it was time to roll back the currently-scheduled Capital Stock and Franchise Tax cut that took effect Jan. 1, 2013, to save $360 million that could be used for education funding.

But unlike many other speakers from around the state who urged that action – which Senate Democrats have been touting for months – Evans and Butkovitz went further.

The two men who warred for almost a decade as Evans held onto his chairmanship by steady but narrowing margins, “often agree now,” said Butkovitz. “In fact, since I stopped running against Dwight, I find we agree most of the time.”

Evans and Butkovitz, like many Democrats, also want a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction, on top of the current impact fee. Butkovitz said the additional tax will raise another $200 million annually, and the bulk of that should be used to restore education funding to its federal-stimulus driven high levels of 2010-11 and before.

But Evans wants to go further than a new natural gas tax and rolling back this year’s enacted Capital Stock and Franchise Tax.

“Those are good starting points” Evans said of the proposals to restore more than $500 million a year to education funding. “But we need to have a broader discussion, and start that discussion about the broader based taxes we levy on income, on businesses, because we have to stop under-funding education, and under-funding local government.”

I asked Evans how far that discussion could go, when his own House Democratic Caucus doesn’t want to put up more than 60 votes for even the transportation revenue increase?

“We don’t know until we start the conversation and start pushing to do the right thing, which is to raise enough revenue to take the state’s heel off the neck of local taxpayers,” Evans said. “This is a conversation we need to start.”

In terms of this budget debate, I doubt Evans or Butkovitz or even the Senate Democrats will get their goals this year.

But the fact that while Gov. Tom Corbett is making renunciation of higher or new taxes his litmus test, and more and more prominent Democrats are taking the opposite tack, shows you something.

Democrats are getting increasingly bold about the need to raise revenues and willing to publicly state that desire. Which could make the 2014 into a referendum on taxes, and one in which the Democrats are not cowering and trying to be expensive Republicans.

That would be a big change.


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