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Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address on Feb. 7, 2017 | Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address on Feb. 7, 2017 | Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address on Feb. 7, 2017 | Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

By Sarah Anne Hughes August 2, 2017

The truth behind a GOP gov. hopeful’s Wolf nickname: ‘Thomas the Tax Engine’

A businessman without political experience using his outsider status to rise to power: It worked for President Donald Trump, and now Western Pa. Republican Paul Mango — a Harvard-educated veteran and former healthcare consultant — will attempt to use it to take the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg.

Mango kicked off his campaign in May, running in part on an anti-tax platform. At an event at Lackawanna College in mid-May, Mango called Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf "Thomas the Tax Engine," according to The Scranton Times-Tribune. "He has never met a tax he doesn’t like," Mango continued to reporters. "He has requested almost $6 billion in taxes in the years he’s been in office. We cannot afford any more of Tom Wolf."

Mango has repeatedly used that nickname for Wolf, including in a campaign video posted to YouTube on May 18. What’s changed, however, is Mango’s estimate for Wolf’s proposed tax increases: from $6 billion to more than $8 billion during the governor’s time in office.

"Governor Wolf is refusing to accept a revenue plan unless it includes tax increases," a July 24 post on Mango’s campaign Facebook page states. "As Governor, Wolf has already proposed more than $8B in tax increases."

Has Wolf earned the Tax Engine sobriquet?

When contacted about the $6 billion claim in May, a Mango campaign advisor, Matthew E. Beynon of consulting firm BrabenderCox, shared a spreadsheet that showed $5.7 billion in estimated revenue from tax increases and modifications for budget years 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18. The sources listed were Wolf’s executive budgets.

While the revenue estimates for years 2016-17 and 2017-18 matched those under the heading "PROPOSED TAX AND REVENUE MODIFICATIONS" in Wolf’s proposed budgets, the estimate for 2015-16 did not. Mango’s campaign estimated 2015-16 revenue at $1.9 billion, while Wolf’s own budget showed the revenue estimate at $4.6 billion. The bulk of that — an estimated $2.4 billion — would have come from an increase in the personal income tax rate and an additional $1.6 billion from a higher and expanded sales and use tax.

When asked about the discrepancy, Beynon said, "We based our initial numbers by taking the most conservative estimates that we found." The campaign revised the numbers, he said, to project $8.6 billion in "tax increases" during Wolf’s time in office.

That $8.6 billion figure appears to come from combining the positive revenue estimates from tax changes proposed in Wolf’s first three budgets. It falls to an estimated $8.3 billion when tax cuts and modifications that would have resulted in a revenue reduction in budget years 2015-16 and 2016-17 are included.

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Gina Diorio, director of media relations for the Commonwealth Foundation, said the conservative think-tank would use that $8.3 billion number as the estimate for Wolf’s tax increase requests during his time in office.

However, Marc Stier, director of the nonpartisan Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, says it is misleading to look at the proposals cumulatively.

Proposed tax changes from Wolf's first budget did not pass and were modified and carried over to the second. The same goes for Wolf's second and third budget proposals, although to a lesser degree.

In budget year 2016-17, Wolf proposed $2.7 billion in tax changes. Stier said that’s practically what Wolf asked for during his first budget year when one takes into account the $2.1 billion in property tax relief it would have provided. "That is a tax shift," he said.

Hypothetically, if Wolf’s requests for tax increases would have been granted during the first year, there would be no deficit today and therefore no need to increase taxes.

"If the General Assembly had enacted [Wolf’s] tax proposals from the first or the second year, there would be no need to enact any taxes this year," Stier said in a follow-up email. "We have a two-year deficit (this year and next year) that approaches $4 billion. If we raised $2.7 billion (or a bit more with inflation) this year and next, we would have $5.4 billion more revenue over two years. Thus there would be no need for new tax revenues."

The Commonwealth Foundation’s Diorio said she couldn’t "conjecture what might or might not have been introduced had certain tax proposals passed."

When asked about Mango's tax claim, Beth Melena, communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said Wolf was working to restore $1 billion in education cuts and was dealing with "a massive budget deficit" when he proposed his first budget. The statement did not directly address the number.

Our ruling

Mango asserted at a campaign kickoff event that Wolf has requested "nearly $6 billion in taxes" since taking office. His campaign revised that estimate to more than $8 billion, which is approximately the total revenue estimate from tax changes in Wolf’s three budgets combined. But one expert says looking at the proposals cumulatively is misleading, as proposed changes that did not pass were modified and carried over from one year to the next. We rate this claim Half True.

Our Sources

Facebook, Mango for PA post, July 24, 2017

News article, "Mango brings campaign kickoff tour to Scranton," The Scranton Times-Tribune, May 19, 2017

Video, "Thomas the Tax Engine," Paul Mango YouTube channel, May 18, 2017

Email and telephone interview, Beth Melena, communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, May 24, 2017

Email, Matthew E. Beynon, senior communications strategist, BrabenderCox, May 23, 2017 and June 1, 2017

Document, "2015-2016 Pennsylvania Executive Budget," budget.pa.gov, March 3, 2015

Document, "2016 − 2017 Pennsylvania Executive Budget," budget.pa.gov, Feb. 9, 2016

Document, "2017-2018 Governor’s Executive Budget," budget.pa.gov, Feb. 7, 2017

Telephone interview, Mark Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, June 7, 2017

Email, Mark Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, June 8, 2017

Email, Gina Diorio, director of media relations for the Commonwealth Foundation, June 7, 2017

Web page, "2011-12 State Budget Highlights," Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, accessed June 5, 2017

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