House sends Senate $31.52 billion budget bill

House sends Senate $31.52 billion budget bill

Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, April 4, 2017/Categories: News and Views

The House of Representatives Tuesday voted largely along party-line vote of 114-84 to send the Senate a $31.52 billion spending plan, despite not having an articulated, supportable plan for funding it.


"This is a responsible, sustainable budget for FY 2017-2018," said House Appropriations Majority Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York). "It's a departure from past years and a good first step in the direction of reinventing government."


Rep. Saylor noted the bill does not call on taxpayers to pay more out of their pocket to support the General Fund and does not provide for any new borrowing.


Highly touted in the budget are over $150 million in education spending increases, additional funding for State Police cadets, and reducing overall spending from the current fiscal year by $200 million.


The proposal is also $850 million less than what the governor proposed in February, but maintains his proposal to consolidate four human services-related state agencies as well as the consolidation of the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole.


What remained unclear is exactly how the Republicans plan to pay for their spending number, which they say needs $790 million from a “Revenue Reform Package.”


According to an internal House Republican document obtained by The PLS Reporter Monday, members are being asked to consider as part of that package a number of proposals that total over $1.6 billion in new revenue.


Topping the list is $25 million in potential tax credit reductions, $160 million in special fund balance transfers, and $247.5 million in liquor reform including wine and spirits expanded and enhanced permits as well as a lease and divestiture of the wholesale liquor market.


Additionally, House Republicans could vote on a measure bringing in $376 million from gaming expansion and reform including iGaming, slots at non-primary locations, tablet gaming and slots at airports, removing the amenity requirement from the Category 3 licenses, and allowing fantasy sports.


Finally, in an ad hoc menu of potential options, House Republicans are asking their members to consider that the legalizing of video gaming terminals (VGTs) could bring in $389 million, legalizing games of skill could bring in $103 million, adopting Speaker of the House Mike Turzai’s (R-Allegheny) “Free the Wine” proposal that privatizes the wholesale and retail wine market could bring in an additional $119.4 million, and a redirection of dedicated special fund revenue to the General Fund could provide an additional $250 million to balance the budget.


Democrats Tuesday largely opposed the spending plan.


"This Republican budget bill cuts into the bone many of us agree is already bare," said Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) on the Floor Tuesday. "Expediency should not claim common sense as a victim, it should reward Pennsylvanians who have gotten us through this storm. When do we stop punishing Pennsylvanians for the budgetary policy of the Republican majority?"


Others pointed to lower environmental funding in the budget plan, cuts to state employee complement, and other cuts as a reason to oppose the budget plan.


The bill now heads over to the Senate where caucus spokesperson Jenn Kocher stated the proposal will be reviewed by members.


"We look forward to reviewing it," she remarked to The PLS Reporter Tuesday. "At first glance there are things that we like and things that will need to be changed."


After a scheduled recess starting Thursday, the legislature is not set to return to voting session until April 18, 2017.