Re­gion’s reps. buck trends in state bud­get

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE -

Law­mak­ers in Har­ris­burg barely beat the June dead­line by pass­ing a new fis­cal plan.

There are a lot of fin­gers be­ing pointed these days in Har­ris­burg.

That’s what hap­pens when you ap­prove a $32 bil­lion spend­ing plan and then spend the next three months try­ing to fig­ure out how to fund it. You read that right. Our es­teemed Leg­is­la­ture barely beat the dead­line at the end of June by pass­ing a new fis­cal plan.

Since then we’ve been treated to dys­func­tion – which is an­other way of say­ing busi­ness as usual in Har­ris­burg – as leg­is­la­tors have tied them­selves in knots try­ing to fig­ure out how to pay for it.

Keep in mind that, as with ev­ery­thing that hap­pens in the state cap­i­tal, this ex­er­cise is drenched in pol­i­tics. Ev­ery state rep­re­sen­ta­tive as well as the gover­nor will be up for re-elec­tion in 2018.

First up in the bat­ter’s box was the state Se­nate. These folks do not have to run for re­elec­tion ev­ery two years. So maybe they were a lit­tle more amenable to con­sid­er­ing some me­nial tax in­creases to fund the bud­get.

Their plan raised a few taxes on util­i­ties and phone bills. More im­por­tantly, it did some­thing many in Har­ris­burg, in­clud­ing Gov. Tom Wolf, have been clam­or­ing for now for years. They put their weight be­hind the state’s first sev­er­ance tax on the nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try. Wolf said he would sup­port the Se­nate plan.

Then they waited for the House to take ac­tion. And they waited. And they waited. We’re still wait­ing.

The House, led by con­ser­va­tive fire­brand Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Al­legheny, be­lieves any tax hike is anath­ema.

They took one look at the Se­nate plan, re­al­ized they were going to be sad­dled with hav­ing their mem­bers seek­ing re­elec­tion on the backs of tax hikes, and gave the plan a quick thumb’s down.

That was months ago. In the mean­time, they have of­fered up sev­eral plans to both plug the cur­rent spend­ing gap, most of which in­volved bor­row­ing lots of money.

They have tin­kered with the idea of hit­ting up the state’s to­bacco set­tle­ment fund, and of course con­sid­ered adding more le­gal gam­ing in the state, as well as sell­ing off the state’s lu­cra­tive booze busi­ness.

Wolf panned the bor­row­ing idea in part be­cause it doesn’t them in­volve re­cur­ring rev­enue he be­lieves is needed to of­fer a more per­ma­nent fix to the state’s fis­cal woes.

So the two sides con­tinue to snipe and point fin­gers at each other.

One place fin­gers should not be pointed at is the south­east state House del­e­ga­tion, in par­tic­u­lar the Repub­li­can mem­bers.

Per­haps em­bold­ened by the work of Sen. Tom McGar­rigle, R-26, of Delaware County, in get­ting the Se­nate to stand be­hind a sev­er­ance tax, mem­bers from the south­east Repub­li­can House cau­cus de­cided to try the same.

They did this at some peril, know­ing it was a di­rect chal­lenge to party lead­er­ship. Turzai made it clear he wanted no part of a new sev­er­ance tax on nat­u­ral gas drillers. And, be­ing one of the state’s fore­most pro­po­nents of get­ting the state out of the booze busi­ness, he prob­a­bly was not all that en­am­ored at the thought of dip­ping into the LCB’s prof­its, as sug­gested by Gov. Wolf, in the process val­i­dat­ing it as a solid, re­cur­ring rev­enue stream for the state.

So the south­east del­e­ga­tion tried an end-around, push­ing a vote to get the shale tax out of com­mit­tee and onto the House floor where the en­tire body could vote on it one way or the other.

Didn’t hap­pen. The vote failed. The shale tax re­mains bot­tled up in com­mit­tee.

The strain of what is now an im­passe in its fourth month is pretty clear in the words of Rep. Nick Mic­carelli, R-162nd Dist.

“I would like to see mem­bers of the House and Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions com­mit­tees get in a room, lock the door be­hind us and no­body leaves un­til we put a bud­get on the gover­nor’s desk,” the Repub­li­can flatly stated. He’d be in that room. Mic­carelli is a mem­ber of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

For his part, Gov. Wolf last week gave no­tice that he is tired of play­ing games with Repub­li­cans and moved to “patch” the cur­rent bud­get gap by tap­ping into the LCB money.

Talks con­tinue for a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion.

A sev­er­ance tax still might be in the works. And if it hap­pens, it’s likely south­east Pa. Repub­li­cans will sup­ply cru­cial votes.

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