State’s budget games going down to wire
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.