Wolf renews pitch for severance tax to fund lead abatement in Philly schools

Mike DeNardo
March 21, 2019 - 3:50 pm
Gov. Tom Wolf

The Office of Governor Tom Wolf via Flickr

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing a $100 million plan to remove lead paint from Philadelphia school buildings, and he's proposing to pay for it through a severance tax on natural gas. 

The lead paint abatement would be part of Wolf's Restore Pennsylvania infrastructure program. He made the announcement while touring 103-year-old John H. Taggart School in South Philadelphia — one of 10 buildings where the district is currently working on lead paint stabilization.  

The governor said his four-year, $4.5 billion Restore Pennsylvania program is separate from his budget proposal.

"If there was any confusion that maybe the severance tax, some of that money, would be sort of merged in an invisible way into the general fund — what I'm trying to say here is that this is for specific capital projects," he explained.

Last year, the School District of Philadelphia used $16 million state grants and local funds to launch a program to clear lead paint and asbestos from its aging school buildings.  

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Superintendent William Hite is all for the governor's plan.

"Even after we use all of the grant money and the funds that the district operations budget has provided, there's still significant amounts of work to be done," he noted. "That's why we are all advocating for a reliable source of funding."

And one-time funds won't address long-term issues.

"We're not going to address $4.5 billion of deferred maintenance needs with a collection of one-time funds," Hite said. "We actually need a recurring source so that we can have a long-term plan to address these things and to ensure that the buildings we address don't fall back into disrepair."

Wolf said Pennsylvania is the only natural gas-producing state without a severance tax.

"If we had one, here's money we need right now to help address the issues in classes and school buildings like this, all across Pennsylvania," he added.