State’s bud­get games go­ing down to wire

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE -

Only in Penn­syl­va­nia. Yes, we have a bud­get in place. What we don’t have is a way to pay for it.

Only in Penn­syl­va­nia. Yes, we have a bud­get in place, one that calls for our friends in Har­ris­burg to spend $32 bil­lion of your hard-earned tax dol­lars. It’s been in place since the state-man­dated dead­line of July 1.

What we don’t have is a way to pay for it.

Still, two and a half months later.

Ac­tu­ally that’s not tech­ni­cally cor­rect.

We ac­tu­ally have two of them. That’s right. There are now two fund­ing plans float­ing around the state Capi­tol.

At this point we might re­mind you that Repub­li­cans con­trol both the House and Se­nate, so why is it that they have yet to agree on a way to fund the bud­get?

One word: Taxes.

The Se­nate ver­sion calls for some new levies, in­clud­ing some­thing many peo­ple have been call­ing for now for years, a new sev­er­ance tax on the state’s nat­u­ral gas drillers.

But Repub­li­cans in the House, un­der the thumb of Speaker Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Al­legheny, chafe at the idea of any new taxes.

Late Wed­nes­day night they passed a fund­ing pack­age of their own and made like Ge­orge H.W. Bush in the process.

Read their lips: No new taxes.

In­stead, to close the state’s $2.2 bil­lion rev­enue gap, they are call­ing for their Har­ris­burg pals to raid the piggy banks of sev­eral pro­grams, in­clud­ing mass tran­sit, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The plan also would raid a por­tion of the state’s to­bacco set­tle­ment fund and of­fer some ex­panded gam­ing.

But even that won’t get them to the fin­ish line. Just for good mea­sure they’re also plan­ning to float a $1 bil­lion loan.

The back­ers of this pro­posal in­sist skim­ming off th­ese sur­plus funds will not harm state ser­vices. Those on the front lines – in par­tic­u­lar trans­porta­tion – are not nearly as sure. Of­fi­cials at SEPTA al­ready are warn­ing of cuts if the plan is put in place.

House Repub­li­cans do not seem to be swayed.

“We can ei­ther tax our con­stituents, or we can use the money we al­ready have,” said Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin.

Con­ser­va­tive House Repub­li­cans take their cue from Turzai, who be­lieves any tax hike is some­thing akin to anath­ema. It has not es­caped no­tice that Turzai also con­tin­ues to toy with the no­tion of chal­leng­ing Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Speak­ing of the gov­er­nor, he’s not ex­actly en­am­ored with the House GOP plan, la­bel­ing it “ir­re­spon­si­ble.” More im­por­tantly, Wolf notes that the state is ca­reen­ing into se­ri­ous fis­cal jeop­ardy un­less a bud­get – and a fund­ing plan – is put in place. The gov­er­nor has in­di­cated the state would need to start mak­ing cuts if a deal to re­solve the three-month bud­get im­passe is not in place. Crit­i­cal also would de­scribe the state’s fis­cal straits. Trea­surer Joe Torsella and Au­di­tor Gen­eral Eu­gene DePasquale this week penned a let­ter warn­ing that $860 mil­lion in ex­pen­di­tures could be in jeop­ardy.

Demo­crat Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161, mocked the fund­ing mech­a­nism passed by her GOP col­leagues.

She in­di­cated that Repub­li­cans went so far as to add an amend­ment that would take the state’s ex­ist­ing im­pact fee on nat­u­ral gas and change the name to a sev­er­ance tax.

Both Wolf and Democrats are warn­ing that a down­grade to the state’s al­ready shaky credit rat­ing looms in the near fu­ture. Stan­dard & Poor’s al­ready has the state on a neg­a­tive credit watch.

The House GOP plan would serve as a Band-Aid, clos­ing this year’s gap­ing bud­get wound, but fail­ing to re­solve the state’s on­go­ing bud­get dilemma.

In the mean­time, the clock is tick­ing. In other words, it’s busi­ness as usual.

Crit­i­cal also would de­scribe the state’s fis­cal straits. State trea­sury of­fi­cials are warn­ing that $860 mil­lion in ex­pen­di­tures could be in jeop­ardy.

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