State Budget and Taxes

Don't Let the Extremists Win

 There are lots of rumors about a budget deal flying around Harrisburg but few details and even less assurance that the deal will stick, that is, that votes will be found to approve in in the House and the Senate.

 What little we hear is concerning. And the best way to understand our concerns is to look again at why we have not reached a deal until this point—extremists control the Republican Party in the House.

The Budget Solution We Need

It appears that the Pennsylvania Senate is about to vote to not concur with the recently-passed House bill to fund this year’s budget. That will set the stage for what will certainly be intense negotiations among the four legislative caucuses and Governor Wolf about a compromise bill. We hope these negotiations will be completed quickly, as the state is already delaying payments to the pension funds and Medicaid managed care organizations and the state is getting very close to a credit down grade that will cost hundreds of millions over the next few years.

What the PA Credit Downgrade Means

The decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade Pennsylvania’s credit rating should come as no surprise. There was ample warning by S&P and other credit agencies, as well as by political observers including us at PBPC, that this would be the result of the continuing failure of Republicans in the General Assembly, and especially Speaker Turzai and his followers in the House, to raise sufficient recurring revenues to close state’s long-term structural deficit.

STATEMENT: On the Passage of the PA House GOP Revenue Plan

HARRISBURG – Marc Stier, Director of the PA Budget and Policy Center, made the following statement on the passage of the House GOP revenue plan:
 
"After a long debate that was mainly remarkable for the failure of House Republicans to adequately explain or defend their proposal to transfer $600 million from special funds into the General Fund, the Pennsylvania House of Representative enacted a revenue plan that, (1) includes zero recurring revenues, which means that the next fiscal year will begin with a deficit of over $1 billion, (2) is fundamentally unbalanced in that it includes many proposals that are unlikely to raise the revenues expected, including proposals that have been included in previous budgets but have never gone into effect, and (3) is a stealth cut in government spending on critical programs in public transportation, public safety, environmental protection and agriculture, small business, economic development, and other areas that are supported by the special funds the House has raided.

The PA House GOP Budget Plan to Raid Special Funds Explained

The Pennsylvania House Republican plan to balance the budget by, among other things, raiding other state funds is something of a moving target. A new amendment Representative Moul (A03286) to House Bill 593 is the legislative vehicle in which elements of the plan will move to the floor of the House as early as today.

Where the Budget Stands

As legislators return to Harrisburg after a far too long vacation, it’s time to take stock of the state of the unfinished budget.

In early July, the General Assembly enacted a budget that took many step forwards. It provided new funding for child care and pre-K education, for K-12 education, for the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education; for those who are intellectually disabled and face long waiting lists to get services; and for those for those who suffer from opioid addiction and mental illness.

Pay No Attention to the Budget Cuts Behind the Curtain: the PA House GOP Budget Plan

For the last few weeks, we have been told a Republican plan to balance the budget was coming, one that would, almost miraculously, come up with more than $2 billion without raising taxes or cutting any public programs simply by transferring “surplus funds” that were “not doing anything” into the General Fund.

We knew and said that this plan was, at best, a one year fix that would not do anything to reduce the long term structural deficit in the state budget. And in the same piece we strongly suspected that it was based on some false assumptions about why there are numerous state special funds and why, at certain points of the year, they run a surplus.

But we were not prepared for what we heard today when the program was revealed and the whole effort was shown to be a sham of Wizard of Oz proportions.

Let’s Not Let Cranky Uncle Mike Raid the State Budget

Last November we elected a President who reminds many of us of a cranky uncle who sits at the far end of the Thanksgiving or Christmas table, muttering under his breath about the “damn government” and “wasted taxes” and, quite often, “those people who cause all the trouble.” When you try to engage him in discussion, you find that he has a ready – and extremely simplistic – answer to every question, one that is lacking in any detailed understanding of what government actually does and that assumes that “it’s very simple to do x or y” if not for conniving politicians.

Right now, some Republican members of the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania, with the support of outside advocates, are readying a plan to borrow massively, perhaps up to more than $2 billion, from many of the 100 or so special funds that, along with the General Fund, are part of the state budget. Their justification for doing so is that, at the end of each year, many of these funds have a surplus. So it seems easy enough to shift those surpluses – money they are quick to say is “just sitting there not doing anything” – into the General Fund.

Why is this a bad idea? There are two general reasons.

Evidently You Can Make This Stuff Up: The Commonwealth Foundation (and the House GOP) on the State Budget

The Commonwealth Foundation, in recent op-eds and website posts, has presented a misleading analysis of the state budget, one that falsely claims that state spending has been increasing relative to the states’ economy. The opposite is true. Between Fiscal Year 2001 and the current fiscal year, General Fund spending has shrunk from 4.74% of state GDP to 4.25% of state GDP.

Budget Deal: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It’s time for Speaker of the House Mike Turzai to come back from his fundraising trip and call the Pennsylvania House of Representatives together and belatedly finish the Pennsylvania budget. A bipartisan majority in the Senate has passed a bill to fund the budget. While it is not perfect, if Speaker Turzai will allow it to come to the floor for a vote, it appears a similar bipartisan majority can pass it in the House as well, preferably with some amendments to it’s most problematic features.

And, let there be no doubt, there are many problematic features in both the revenue package and the the companion bills passed by the Senate. But before we look at the problems, we should look at what has been achieved this year. The Republican leadership in the Senate has recognized something we have been saying all year: Pennsylvania has a revenue problem, not a spending problem. And thus a number of Republicans voted for a package that raises $571 million in new recurring revenues to close our budget deficit in this and subsequent years. They recognize that we need new taxes to maintain the level of spending on education, human services, environmental protection, and infrastructure that Pennsylvanians demand, let alone to close the investment deficit in providing services in all those areas. At a time when the Speaker of the House and other Republicans continue to live in a fantasy budget-land in which spending should always be cut and taxes never raised, it is an achievement to have the Republican Senate Majority embrace reality and the need to raise new revenues.

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