Latest budget deadline passes with little fanfare, leaves many questions

Author: Jason Gottesman/Thursday, December 17, 2015/Categories: News and Views

The deadline set by House Republican leaders for 12:30 p.m. on Thursday for Gov. Tom Wolf to prove to them he has the votes to get the revenue for the $30.788 billion budget agreed-to as part of the five-party budget framework came and went without much fanfare, but many House members were left with questions about what the final revenue package would entail.

Despite the stern message sent by House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) Wednesday night that if the governor did not come up with the votes the legislature would move forward with some sort of a stopgap budget, the Wolf administration Thursday morning said they were not fazed.

“It’s not something we’re taking seriously,” said Wolf administration spokesperson Jeff Sheridan of what he called an “artificial” deadline.

Reached later in the day, Sheridan said the governor had not met with House Republican leaders as of late afternoon Thursday and he is still meeting with rank-and-file members.

Despite being presented with a plan in caucus Wednesday night that would increase and expand Pennsylvania’s sales tax to about 14 different categories, it appeared on Thursday morning the leading revenue proposal would increase the state’s personal income tax in order to reach the revenue needed to get to the $30.788 billion figure.

While some in the Capitol argued an increase in the personal income tax might be more favorable for Democratic legislators, there was some concern the change in proposal might not get enough Republicans to get to 102 votes in the House.

“I don’t know what the tax package looks like, it’s not what we saw last night in caucus, I’m sure of that,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) Thursday morning of the sales tax proposal. “I don’t think they could get the votes for what was presented in caucus.”

He said he would consider supporting an increase in the personal income tax depending on seeing the details.

“Until I see what the rate is, which I haven’t been told, what else is involved, and where the money is going to go,” he said of what he would like to see before supporting a PIT increase.

As of Thursday afternoon, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) said there was nothing more to report other than what was said on Wednesday night and he had no information about where his caucus stood in terms of supporting revenue increases of any proposal.

However, Rep. Adolph said he does support some of the revenue-generating proposals being put out there, despite preferring the $30.3 billion budget the House voted over to the Senate just over a week ago.

“I’m definitely in favor of that budget without question, however, that’s not in front of us right now,” he said. “It’s the third week in December and we need to move on because I think there’s a lot of school districts, a lot of colleges, a lot of nonprofits that need their money.”

He called the revenue options “a moving train a little bit.”

Asked if his caucus has settled on any revenue plan, House Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) stated “we’re getting closer.”

Speaking to The PLS Reporter Thursday afternoon, Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill) offered his opinion that regardless of where the revenue comes from, the spending plans as part of the budget framework grow government at a clip that outpaces the private sector, something he finds concerning.

“The answer is simply not going to Pennsylvanians and asking them to pay more,” he said while noting there are cost-savings options out there in terms of things like pension reform that could be looked at before asking for an increase in revenue.

The Senate meanwhile on Thursday scheduled their return to session, announcing they will return on Friday at 11:00 a.m.