House to Senate: Show me the money

Author: Jason Gottesman/Sunday, December 13, 2015/Categories: News and Views

With the House in a rare Sunday evening voting session, budget bills slowly started making their way through that chamber as legislators are hopeful of getting a budget done by week’s end.

However, one question is still nagging members of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives: Where will the revenue come from to support the budget plan?

When noting the Senate has said it has done its job in sending budget bills over to the House before recessing and going on six-hour call last week, members of both parties of the House asked where the money is to support the $30.8 billion spending plan currently in their chamber.

“We have two tax code bills sitting over in the Senate, so if they were serious about sending everything over they would have loaded the taxes to pay for their funding and send it over,” said Rep. Seth Grove (R-York). “The fact that the two House tax code bills are still sitting in Senate Finance Committee, I would have to say you’ve got to pay for what you spend.”

Going further, Rep. Grove speculated that the whole crux of the budget impasse has been whether tax votes exist in the legislature.

“If we have them, put them up and let’s get out of here,” he said. “If we don’t have tax votes, we have to find other revenue sources which I know are out there, get them on the table, and find out how much we can actually spend without having to raise taxes.”

Others speaking to The PLS Reporter Sunday said they, too, are wondering where the money will come from to support the plan passed by the Senate.

“I’ll be able to vote for something after I see what the revenue is,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), a moderate Republican who has worked with Democrats in the past.

“I’ve said all along, I’m not a big fan of the sales tax increase because I think it hurts the poor and middle class disproportionately, and I think it hurts small businesses,” he said. “But, we’ve got to get this done. I’d be willing to look at anything to increase revenue as long as it’s reasonable.”

Earlier this summer, Rep. DiGirolamo introduced his own budget plan that relied on raising the personal income tax and implementing a natural gas tax to raise revenue.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) told reporters there are parts to each bill sent over to the Senate his caucus likes and things his caucus doesn’t like.

“We’re going to evaluate them and that’s what we’re doing now, but we know we’ve got to get a budget passed and we’re looking forward to getting that done this week,” he said.

When it comes to revenues, he said while the $30.8 billion spending plan fixes the deficit and provides for increases in education, the source of the revenue is important.

“[The Senate] didn’t send that over,” he said. “We’re going to look at how we get to 102.”

As far as how revenue negotiations are going, House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) said Sunday night that negotiations are still ongoing.

“We have not actually caucused revenues,” he said. “We’re trying to get a budget done and we’re trying to get it done this week.”

Last week Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) said a revenue package will probably be the last part of the budget to be considered.

“That would be the absolute last bill,” he explained after a Thursday morning meeting with House Republican leadership. “Revenue bills are always the most difficult anyway and there’s a whole host of revenue options that can be used to plug the structural deficit in 15-16, but spending definitely has something to do with it.”

In terms of other budget movement Sunday, the House Rules Committee adopted a temporary rule that would lift the 15-day requirement for a General Appropriations bill to sit on the House calendar before it can be voted on by the full chamber.

The committee also moved to the full House floor two budget-related code bills: the Public Welfare Code and the Administrative Code.

Both of those bills were amended in the committee.

The Public Welfare Code had changes made that would keep the name of the legislation as the Public Welfare Code (the Senate changed it to rename the legislation the Human Services Code) and to change the name of “general assistance” to “assistance.”

The last of such changes drew opposition from Democratic members who noted the Department of Human Services is opposed to the change and questioned whether it would bring Pennsylvania out of federal compliance.

Rep. Reed agreed to continue working on the legislation as it advanced to the floor to address any departmental and federal compliance issues.

In the Administrative Code, the committee stripped language inserted by the Senate relating to ride-sharing services and inserted language requiring the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to study the issue of fantasy sports betting.

Meanwhile, the House Republicans caucused on the above two bills and the Senate pension reform legislation sent over to the House last week.

Rep. Reed noted that House State Government Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) is working on changes to be considered in that committee later this week.

What changes could be expected was not immediately clear on Sunday, however, House Republicans have been on record as being particularly concerned about the collars for FY 2016-2017 that would artificially reduce the required state payments.

In terms of the bill containing alcohol sales reforms, work was said to continue within the House Liquor Control Committee for possible changes later this week.

On other code bills, particularly the Education Code, while staff continues to iron out the details House Republican members have expressed their concern about the hybrid distribution formula, among other concerns that have been expressed by members of both caucuses.

While both sides work to a final agreement by the end of the week, Pennsylvania’s budget impasse stood at 166 days long Sunday.