Pennsylvania bud­get glos­sary

The Community Connection - - OPINION - Low­man S. Henry Colum­nist Low­man S. Henry is Chair­man & CEO of the Lin­coln In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Opin­ion Re­search and host of the weekly Lin­coln Ra­dio Journal. His email ad­dress is lhenry@lin­col­nin­sti­tute.org

Pennsylvania law­mak­ers are sched­uled to re­turn to ses­sion on Sept. 11 to fin­ish work on a state bud­get which was due at the end of June. Late bud­gets have be­come a hall­mark of the Tom Wolf ad­min­is­tra­tion as the gov­er­nor ha­bit­u­ally pro­poses spend­ing that vastly ex­ceeds avail­able rev­enue.

The gov­er­nor and leg­is­la­tors are in some­what un­charted wa­ters as they ap­proved a spend­ing plan by the bud­get dead­line, but have yet to reach agree­ment on how to fund that spend­ing.

In the weeks since the Sen­ate vote con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans in the state House have been work­ing on an al­ter­na­tive that would fund the bud­get with­out rais­ing taxes and bor­row­ing from fu­ture rev­enue sources. They say they have found enough dol­lars squir­relled away in dif­fer­ence agency ac­counts to ac­com­plish that goal.

The bud­get will be a top pri­or­ity when the House re­turns to ses­sion. Since bud­get terms can be con­fus­ing fol­lows is a glos­sary that will serve as your guide to what var­i­ous terms tossed around in the bud­get de­bate ac­tu­ally mean:

State Con­sti­tu­tion — A dusty old doc­u­ment used for dec­o­ra­tion on state capi­tol cof­fee ta­bles, but which is never ac­tu­ally re­ferred to when mak­ing laws.

Bud­get Dead­line — A relic of by­gone times when the gov­er­nor and the leg­is­la­ture ac­tu­ally ful­filled their du­ties by en­act­ing a bal­anced state bud­get by the date spec­i­fied in the state con­sti­tu­tion.

Bud­get — A doc­u­ment that in­cludes a plan for spend­ing and for the rev­enue to pay for that spend­ing. This term has been rede­fined as a spend­ing plan that we’ll some­how fig­ure out how to pay for down the road.

Struc­tural Deficit — This refers to the dif­fer­ence be­tween what the state ac­tu­ally has to spend and what the gov­er­nor and many law­mak­ers want to spend. It is viewed as some­thing to be funded with higher taxes, rather than be­ing cut to fit avail­able rev­enue.

Pro­jected Rev­enue — The amount of money rea­son­ably ex­pected to be col­lected from ex­ist­ing taxes and tax rates. This num­ber will fall far short of de­sired spend­ing and there­fore is of­ten ad­justed up­ward to meet that tar­get.

Sev­er­ance Tax — This is a pro­posed fourth layer of tax­a­tion on gas pro­duced in Pennsylvania’s Mar­cel­lus shale re­gion. Since the im­pact tax was la­beled a fee, some law­mak­ers per­pe­trate the myth of an in­dus­try get­ting away tax free.

To­bacco Set­tle­ment Fund — An an­nual rev­enue source gen­er­ated by pro­ceeds of a law­suit against big to­bacco com­pa­nies that now is seen as a way to bor­row from the fu­ture to plug the cur­rent year’s bud­get deficit.

Bor­row­ing from the State Trea­sury — A process whereby we bor­row our own money and charge our­selves in­ter­est in an ef­fort to make it look like the state is fac­ing fis­cal Ar­maged­don.

Gam­bling Ex­pan­sion — Refers to var­i­ous plans to al­low for on-line gam­ing, the place­ment of video gam­ing ter­mi­nals in bars and restau­rants and other ex­pected new sources of gam­bling rev­enue. Pro­jected funds from these non-ex­is­tent sources are of­ten in­cluded in the bud­get.

Sen­ate Repub­li­can Lead­er­ship — Sen­a­tors who aban­don their party’s prin­ci­ples upon ac­quir­ing fancy ti­tles.

Veto-Proof Ma­jor­ity — Refers to hav­ing two-thirds of the seats in a cham­ber, of which a sub­stan­tial num­ber will side with the mi­nor­ity.

House Repub­li­cans — Law­mak­ers blamed for the bud­get im­passe be­cause they are op­posed to rais­ing taxes on work­ing fam­i­lies, se­nior cit­i­zens and small busi­nesses.

Re­verse Ap­pro­pri­a­tion — This is a new term re­fer­ring to ef­forts to cut the ap­proved spend­ing plan to fit avail­able pro­jected rev­enue. It is not some­thing ever likely to be used.

Tax­pay­ers — The only group of peo­ple in Penn’s Woods who don’t have a high priced lob­by­ist work­ing on their be­half in Harrisburg. They are also viewed as an end­less source of rev­enue by spend­ing in­ter­ests.

And so, as you hear the gov­er­nor and law­mak­ers de­bate how to fund the state bud­get, keep in mind that what terms mean in the pub­lic sec­tor are of­ten very dif­fer­ent than what they mean to ev­ery­one else.

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