Capitolwire “Under the Dome”, 6/23/2017
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Center, told state Capitol reporters the Senate Republican Caucus was looking at a budget spending figure of roughly $31.8 billion. While that sounds like it’s $300 million more than the $31.5 billion in spending included in the House GOP budget approved by the state House of Representatives in April, it’s actually not. Both House and Senate sources confirmed the House GOP budget moves between $300 million and $400 million in spending out of the General Fund budget: about $200 million in debt service and another $200 million or so in Department of Conservation and Natural Resources programs, grants to the arts and some Tobacco Fund programs. When asked about the off-budget items, a House source said the House GOP budget was simply mirroring what was done by Gov. Tom Wolf’s February budget proposal, and that the House GOP would welcome putting those items back into the General Fund. With those items included in the House GOP budget spend total, both Republican caucuses appear to be in the same general vicinity of $31.8 billion, although there are differences between the two sides regarding how the money is spent. However, there still appears to be a notable gap between the GOP and and Wolf’s February budget proposal that seeks to spend $32.3 billion (with, according to the House GOP, a couple hundred million in off-budget items) – as well as the matter of how lawmakers are going to close a roughly $3 billion budget deficit.
Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/23/2017
Has PA’s Republican-controlled legislature slipped into in a nether world where it no longer is required to balance the state budget? That could explain some of its lazy ideas to close a $1.5 billion deficit. Maybe lawmakers had already checked out when they suggested the state borrow its way out of the shortfall. Were they even thinking about the consequences once the state starts paying back the money with interest? Or how debt service would suck the wind out of other services? … With days to go before the budget deadline, the legislature hasn’t offered one honest idea; not even to spend within what the Republicans and their special-interest buddies think are the state’s means. They don’t want to slash more services because they would have to admit to angry constituents that they don’t care if parks open in the summer or main roads are plowed in the winter. Lawmakers could raise revenue by increasing the income and sales taxes. Or they could tax their campaign sugar daddies in the shale industry. But they can’t pretend that they can ignore reality. PA has endured so many budget gimmicks that it is fast headed toward a fiscal nightmare …
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6/22/2017
With less than 10 days to the deadline for a new state budget, there is talk but little action — and even less agreement — on how to close a steep budget deficit and fix the state’s fiscal problems. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, on Wednesday strongly signaled skepticism over a plan being discussed by Republicans who control the state Senate to borrow money to ease the state’s $1.5 billion shortfall. Top Republicans in both chambers in turn have dismissed many of Mr. Wolf’s proposals to generate new dollars, including a new tax on natural gas drilling and an expansion of the state sales tax to items that are currently exempt. And no one involved in budget talks appeared to be anywhere near figuring out a plan to expand gambling — one of the proposals that until now all sides indicated would likely be part of any final budget plan. Muddying the waters further Wednesday: top legislative leaders sent rank-and-file legislators home for the rest of the week, setting the stage for a hectic session next week when they return to the Capitol. Still, top legislative Republicans said they remained optimistic a budget can be done — if not on time, then nearly so … Corman said negotiators are leaning toward spending about $31.8 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1 — a number that is close both to what Mr. Wolf proposed when he unveiled his budget in February as well as to a plan House Republicans approved in the spring. The question of how to pay for it remains the sticking point, as it has in past years … Borrowing money to effectively pay the state’s bills has long been controversial in the Capitol, and proposals involving borrowing have been rejected before by conservative Republicans. Even so, House Speaker Mike Turzai would not say Wednesday whether he or other Republicans in his chamber supported the principle of borrowing, let alone the reality of its being used to close the budget shortfall …
Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, 6/23/2017
Education advocates on Thursday said they’re worried that as state lawmakers strain to come up with a balanced budget, they’ll balance the plan by shortchanging public schools. The issue looms large because the proposed increase actually just serves to offset increased pension costs. And in many rural school districts, even without factoring in pension costs, a cut in busing aid proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf will outweigh his proposed boost in classroom spending, according to an analysis provided by Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Wolf has proposed a $100 million increase in state funding for basic education. With that increase, state spending on classroom instruction will be just shy of $6 billion. A plan passed in the state House in April kept the governor’s proposed increase in place …
PLS Reporter, 6/22/2017
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding held a rally Thursday morning to urge the General Assembly to grant the $100 million increase to basic education funding formula proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf. Advocates said that the PA constitution guarantees each student in the commonwealth receives a thorough and efficient education, but school districts are facing a difficult time funding this provision. Currently, Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal, along with the House’s proposal, has granted basic education the $100 million the group has hoped for. However, they said, this number is in jeopardy as budget negotiations for the coming fiscal year enter the home stretch. The deadline for the FY 2017-18 budget is the end of June and the current projected spending number is heard to be around $31.8 billion, so a $100 million increase is seen as a small amount to the campaign and the over 1.5 million students across the state …
Penn Live, 6/22/2017
So if you’re looking for two, sure-fire ways to tell we’re getting down to the wire on passing a new state budget, do this: Listen to the tone, and watch the body language, of those who live and breathe this stuff every day of their working lives. Take, for instance, the activists who commandeer the Capitol rotunda almost daily during session weeks to advocate on behalf of this or that worthy cause. In April, when the first blossoms are appearing on the cherry trees around the Capitol complex, their tone is merely hectoring. By late June, they’re declaiming like Old Testament prophets…. The Capitol was mostly quiet on Thursday, 8 days before the current fiscal year ends at midnight on June 30, and the theoretical deadline for having a replacement spending plan in place. No one really thinks that’s going to happen. It’s a suggestion more than a deadline … Things might even be okay if the debate drags on into the second week of July, meaning July 10 to July 15. If things get much past July 15, then that’s when the serious grumbling will begin. At this point, all three scenarios are possible. And that’s got a lot to do with the fact that Republicans who control the General Assembly and the Democratic Wolf administration have a lot of balls in the air at the moment. And the balls are hand grenades. Legislative Republicans are eyeing a budget with a bottom line of about $31.8 billion. Wolf, of course, would probably prefer something more in the neighborhood of the $32.3 billion he proposed back in February. The difference, of course, is in the details. And in how both sides want to pay for their spending proposals. Republicans need to find $2.2 billion in new revenue to meet their bottom line. That’s $1.5 billion to close the deficit and $700 million to cover costs in the 2017-18 fiscal year that starts at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.
PLS Reporter, 6/22/2017
This week Sen. Vincent Hughes joins the podcast to talk about the state budget and some of his ideas for how to generate revenue.
Penn Live, 6/22/2017
With the end of the current fiscal year a scant 8 days away, Gov. Tom Wolf is sending some pretty clear signals about what he does (and more importantly) doesn’t want to see in a finished spending plan. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the York County Democrat didn’t exactly say no to a Republican-backed plans to balance the books. But he didn’t exactly say yes, either …
“Senate Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati told reporters that he was unsure how the Senate will close the expected $2 billion budget deficit … There are some ideas that have been floated, but do not show much chance of passing the Senate. The House passed a gaming expansion bill two weeks ago, but the bill does not have much support in the Senate … Other ways to close the gap include leasing state property or borrowing against state assets to close the gap. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman does not think that plan has not been really pushed or developed by anybody … Republicans are saying that any broadbased tax increases are off the table to close the gap …
Penn Live, 6/22/2017
For many years during budget negotiations, Democrats have proposed commonsense solutions like a severance tax on gas drillers and closing corporate tax loopholes, but each year Republicans have resisted. This year PA is facing a $3 billion deficit, and there is still no tax on gas drillers or move to close loopholes. Republicans who like to paint themselves as fiscal conservatives have helped create a $3 billion deficit and now may try to do something that makes our fiscal situation even worse. Instead of a commonsense tax on natural gas or closing loopholes in our law that favor greedy out-of-state corporations, Republicans are proposing a borrowing scheme that would further threaten PA taxpayers … Enough is enough. Instead of borrowing $2 billion, let’s pass a commonsense tax on gas drillers and close loopholes. All of us taxpayers already pay a high price for the refusal of Republican legislators to come to the table for a reasonable discussion about how to solve Pennsylvania’s chronic budget imbalance.
News Clips courtesy of our partner Pennsylvania’s Choice!