Believe it or not: there’s still no revenue agreement

Believe it or not: there’s still no revenue agreement

Author: Jason Gottesman/Friday, July 7, 2017/Categories: News and Views

Another day ticked down to when Gov. Tom Wolf must make a decision regarding an unbalanced budget and state legislative leaders were still far apart Friday on getting to a global agreement on a revenue package of more than $2 billion to close out the FY 2016-2017 fiscal year and bring in to balance the current year’s spending plan, which is currently before the governor.


Speaking to reporters after a Friday House voting session that saw members vote on housekeeping measures, House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) reiterated a message he sent to his fellow House Republicans on Thursday: there is no revenue deal.


“There is not an agreement on anything right now,” he said. “Are we trying to work through the different issues and get agreements? Yeah we are. Are some things progressing? Yes, but I don’t think you’re going to have an agreement on anything until we have an agreement on everything.”


While it appears on Friday that all parties are reluctantly agreeing to borrow money to balance out the just-concluded fiscal year, much remains to be agreed to in terms of how to balance FY 2017-2018 and possibly look ahead to FY 2018-2019 to avoid repeated attempts to balance structurally deficient budgets.


In terms revenue of options, it appears as though everything that’s been reported continues to remain on the proverbial table including some form of gaming expansion, enhanced liquor privatization, the diversion of special funds to the General Fund, and new niche taxes.


Certainly, as of Friday, gaming expansion was still a major stumbling block for parties where the House is still holding on to hope for video gaming terminals—something for which the Senate has not been successful in getting votes.


“We don’t have agreement on a gaming expansion proposal right now,” Rep. Reed added. “Certainly, that is something that has been important to our caucus; there’s a lot of moving parts on a lot of issues. How much flexibility we have on gaming depends on how much flexibility other folks show on other components of the revenue package, including liquor privatization.”


Regarding liquor privatization, Rep. Reed noted there is a consumer convenience aspect of potentially expanding grocery store operations while also allowing beer distributors to act as ancillary liquor sales establishments to make them a one-stop-shop for alcohol sales.


Gov. Wolf on Friday was reluctant to state a firm position on many of the revenue options currently being considered noting the ongoing nature of the discussions.


Meanwhile, House Democrats are continuing to push for their priorities of sustainable sources of recurring revenue by looking for things like a natural gas severance tax—something also put forward by the governor—to help balance the budget’s books now and into the future.


“There’ll be no [Democratic] votes unless we’re part of any kind of negotiations; that’s the first thing,” said House Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny).


“What we really need, beyond any gaming, is significant substantial revenue from other sources from what we’ve seen so far an already talked about.”


Wrapping up news from the legislature on revenue negotiation progress, after a nearly 20-minute meeting in the governor’s office, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) reported no new update regarding his caucus’s position on where things stand.


From the perspective of Senate Republicans, spokesperson Jenn Kocher said Friday they feel that talks continue to progress, but--as always--the last mile in these negotiations are the toughest.


Meanwhile, at an unrelated bill signing Friday, Gov. Wolf was not forthcoming with what he might do should the legislature fail to get him legislation that balances the budget by Monday’s midnight deadline.


“I’m optimistic,” he said about the current state of revenue negotiations. “Let’s stay away from speculation. I continue to negotiate, I continue to feel good about the way things are going, and I hope we have a budget very soon.”

This story has been updated to add comments from Jenn Kocher.