State Budget and Taxes

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.

STATEMENT: On the State of PA Budget Negotiations

Marc Stier, Director of the PA Budget and Policy Center, made the following statement on the current state of PA budget negotiations:
 
"If news reports are accurate, enough members of the House Republican caucus heard the voices of their constituents who contacted them in the last 24 hours to demand new recurring revenues to balance the budget in a responsible way.

Drillers Are Right – PA Needs Tax Rate on Gas Like Other States: It’s Time for a Severance Tax

In its recent letter to Speaker Mike Turzai, the Marcellus Shale Coalition points (in paragraph three) to the effective tax rate (ETR) on production as a key indicator of whether Pennsylvania should enact a severance tax in addition to the per-well impact fee we already have.

OK, let’s look at that ETR using Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) estimates of the ETR for 2011-16 and IFO estimates of prices and production to project the ETR (using IFO’s method) in 2017 and 2018.*

Public Investment and Economic Growth: Even the Commonwealth Foundation Gets It (Sometimes)

A strange post a few days ago by Elizabeth Stelle of The Commonwealth Foundation seeks to undermine the case for a severance tax on natural gas drilling, but inadvertently explains exactly why we need new recurring revenues in the state.

Stelle first repeats once again — without evidence — the same tired argument that natural gas drillers “pay more in taxes and regulatory costs than producers in competing states.” Not once has anyone at the Commonwealth Foundation quantified those regulatory costs or attempted to respond to a series of papers put out by PBPC, including this most recent one, that show that natural gas drillers are not paying much, if anything, in corporate income taxes to Pennsylvania and are paying far less in taxes (and fees) here than in other states.

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