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Wheeland addresses budget, taxes, minimum wage

State Rep. Jeff C. Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township speaks with the Sun-Gazette Editorial Board on Thursday. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

The state ended the last fiscal year with total revenue collections $883 million above the official estimate.

While that’s good news and helps put the state on good financial footing as it prepares to put together next year’s budget, at least one lawmaker feels it’s no time for complacency.

In fact, state Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township is concerned about unanswered questions regarding supplemental appropriations totaling $779 million.

Wheeland, a member of the House Republican Appropriations Committee, noted that Act 15 of 2019 requires the governor to submit written requests to the Committee detailing the amount and reasons for the supplemental appropriations.

That has not happened, he said, and he hopes the answers are forthcoming.

Wheeland didn’t predict what Gov. Tom Wolf will propose in his budget address in three weeks.

The lawmaker, who recently announced his intention to seek re-election to the 83rd House seat, noted he was glad to see the state’s rainy day fund increased by more than $350 million.

Still, he points to some troubling developments that must be considered as the state moves ahead in crafting next year’s spending plan.

While the overall labor force has grown, unemployment has increased a bit across the state.

Wheeland said that could be attributed to any number of factors, including an upswing in refugees coming into the state and an inadequately trained labor force.

Yet another factor could be the potential employees unable to pass drug testing required for jobs.

Wheeland said the minimum wage issue could certainly arise once again.

A bill proposing to hike the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to 9.50 per hour passed in the state Senate, but has not been considered by the House.

“I am neither for nor against it,” he said.

Wheeland said he’d like to see more information about any proposal reaching the House.

Any hike in the minimum wage results in both winners and losers, he noted.

Large businesses, Wheeland said, benefit from a minimum wage hike.

“It pushes smaller competitors out,” he said. “Large businesses can adapt.”

On the downside, higher wages can result in companies reducing the number of hours worked by employees.

Wheeland said he would be hard put to establish the minimum wage figure.

“What is the magic number?” he asked.

One potential solution he mentioned would be tying the state’s minimum wage to the consumer price index so it would be adjusted over time automatically.

Wheeland said property tax reform could once again be discussed by lawmakers, and he’d like to see hearings on the issue.

But he made it clear there are no easy answers on the issue.

Reduction or elimination of property taxes would really amount to a tax shift, with increases made on either or both the personal income and sales tax.

The problem, Wheeland noted, is that certain areas of the state are just fine with paying property taxes, while other areas want that to change. He noted parts of the state along the state lines of Maryland, New Jersey and New York are aware of the greater tax burdens in neighboring states and are fearful of what changes could mean.

Wheeland is supporting a number of pieces of legislation, including regulations on dominant skill video games which help support thousands of small businesses and social and fraternal clubs.

His bill, he said, would apply a tax on the games, providing revenues to local governments.

The legislation would also strengthen penalties for those who operate not the dominant skill games but “unlicensed and illegal games” for gambling purposes.

Wheeland is pushing legislation to provide wine expanded permits to beer distributors and a bill for improving calibration requirements for speed timing devices used by law enforcement.

Wheeland is also hoping to put forward a bill that requires voter identification in the form of photo or non-photo ID in all elections. He noted utility bills and employer-provided ID would comply with the measure.

In addition, he is looking to introduce legislation naming the Faxon interchange of Interstate 180 in Loyalsock Township as the U.S. Army Sgt. Thomas H. Woodruff Sr. and U.S. Marine Corp. Sgt Hamilton T. Woodruff Memorial Interchange.

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