- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania on Wednesday defined the “middle class” as taxpayers earning less than $90,000 annually, leaving open the possibility that his proposed tax hikes for others would take effect above that level.

“For me, the middle class is somewhere in the $70,000 to $90,000 [range] on the individual tax return,” said Tom Wolf, a businessman who is trying to upset Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s bid for a second term.

In a debate, Mr. Wolf said he wants to cut the state’s income tax for middle-class workers. He has said he intends to raise taxes on “wealthier” families, but hasn’t provided the details.

Mr. Corbett, trailing by as many as 20 percentage points in recent polls, tried to pounce on the Democrat’s revelation.

“So two teachers [filing jointly] who make over $90,000, you would consider above the middle class?” Mr. Corbett asked.

“Assuming those teachers still had their jobs,” replied Mr. Wolf, who blames the incumbent for thousands of teacher layoffs due to cuts in education funding.

It was their second debate of the campaign, in which polls show Mr. Corbett struggling against a challenger who’s never held elected office. A Franklin and Marshall College poll on Sept. 22 showed Mr. Wolf leading among likely voters, 57 percent to 37 percent. A Morning Call-Muhlenberg College survey on Sept. 18 showed the Democrat with a 21-point lead, 54 percent to 33 percent.

Mr. Corbett is calling attention to the Democrat’s plans to raise taxes, including his proposal to impose a new 5 percent severance tax on the state’s burgeoning shale gas industry. Mr. Wolf says he would use hundreds of millions of dollars from that source to restore some of the education funding that Mr. Corbett didn’t replace when federal stimulus money from the Obama administration dried up.

Pressed for specifics on his planned tax increases Wednesday, Mr. Wolf, who said he wants to cut taxes for the middle class, didn’t divulge much.

“I’ve as been specific as I can,” he said. “I’ll be specific when I understand what kind of [budget] hole this governor has left the next governor.”

A former state revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, Mr. Wolf accused Mr. Corbett of “cooking the books” by transferring $700 million this summer from a state account to fill a budget shortfall.

“Are you accusing me of a criminal act?” replied Mr. Corbett, a former prosecutor and state attorney general. He said budget forecasting is imprecise, and that Mr. Rendell’s administration had used some of the same tactics.

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