Tom Wolf’s agenda: How Pennsylvania will, might and probably won’t change

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Tom Wolf is already getting started. He signed an executive order on his first day as governor banning his appointees and employees from receiving gifts. What else is in store? Wolf has run on a platform promising plenty of change; he calls it “a fresh start.” Here are the eight major changes he has in store for Pennsylvania.

Near-definite changes

Nobody will get a death sentence for a while

Wolf plans to put a moratorium on the death penalty, which is not the same as abolishing it. It means Wolf has said he won’t sign any death warrants (Corbett signed 48) until more research has been done on the death penalty. Of course, Pennsylvania hasn’t actually killed an inmate since 1999 and is considered to have had a de facto death penalty moratorium.

Executive branch employees won’t get any more cool stuff

Sorry, Wolf staff, no more free yacht rides! As noted above, if you’re appointed by the governor or working closely with him, you can’t receive any gifts. He signed an executive order his first day in office banning his employees from receiving anything of value unless it’s from a close friend or relative. Corbett’s administration was criticized for accepting legally-allowed gifts like yacht vacations, tickets to sporting events and Broadway shows that totaled more than $28,000.

Medicaid will be expanded

Rather than expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Corbett passed his own version of Medicaid expansion — called Healthy PA — late last year. Wolf plans to repeal Healthy PA and expand Medicaid. Expect it to happen quickly. As one Medicaid expert told CNBC about Wolf reversing Corbett’s plan and using the federal plan, “It’s not a big deal at all.”

Probable changes

Frackers will have to pay up

One of Wolf’s go-to points throughout his campaign was his desire to levy a 5 percent extraction tax on natural gas. The AP has reported such a tax would bring in over $500 million in annual revenues for the state. Key Republicans have expressed support for an extraction tax, so this seems like it could happen sooner rather than later. For more information about the possibility of this tax and Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry, read this thorough explainer from the York Daily Record.

Pot will be easier to get

Pennsylvania could see marijuana laws closer to Philadelphia’s if Wolf gets what he says he wants. Wolf would like marijuana to be decriminalized and for medicinal marijuana to be made legal. About 80 percent of Pennsylvanians want the same, but the challenge will be convincing the largely Republican legislature to think green. Last year, the Senate voted to pass a bill legalizing medicinal marijuana, but it stalled in the House.

Possible changes

The state will pay a greater share for education; you’ll pay lower property taxes

Wolf’s answers to fixing Pennsylvania’s education crisis have often been vague. But he has been clear about wanting to increase the state’s share of funding for Pennsylvania schools to 50 percent from the upper 30 percent-range under Corbett. He believes doing so would help alleviate property taxes. How much money will the state need to put forward? Don’t ask Wolf because he won’t say. But estimates say 50 percent of education funding would cost the state an extra $3 billion to $4 billion annually.

Higher-earning Pennsylvanians will pay higher income taxes

Wolf wants Pennsylvania to have a more progressive tax system. Right now all residents regardless of income pay an income tax rate of 3.07 percent. Wolf would increase that rate for earners over an unspecified amount, perhaps for individuals making $70K or more or $90K or more. He wouldn’t tax people anything who are below a certain income threshold. He hasn’t been specific about that number either and has said he needs to get all the data while in office before he can completely figure it out. The problem with this idea is Wolf will have to configure a way to rewrite the tax system that fits his plan but also stays true to “uniform” tax requirement of the Pennsylvania constitution.

Long shots

The minimum wage will increase 

Wolf wants a $10.10 minimum wage that would rise with inflation. This will also be tough to pass given the Republican legislature.

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