For those of you who are not aware of Pennsylvania’s budget dilemma, here is a good way to find out. The revenue picture is very dim for us here in the Commonwealth. There are a number of estimates that run from 1.2 billion to 2.0 billion shortfalls in our tax collections. That has caused a minor earthquake in the process of creating a new budget.
The governor laid out a budget in February that appeared to be reasonable (by current standards). However, what he and his staff did not know was that they would be shy a bunch of revenue. The Governor’s no tax increase pledge makes raising any kind of new revenue almost impossible. So, as the months went by, there were hints that we might get a Marcellus Shale (natural gas) severance tax and that the Governor might actually sign onto the Affordable Care Act.
Those two things might not have filled the hole in the budget, but it would have gone a long way. As the months rolled on, it was apparent that the members of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives were going an entirely different way. They put together a budget that was actually lower than the Governor’s. It did not increase any taxes and really assumed that tax collections would increase and that it used one time revenues.
As a former school superintendent I am aware of not using non-recurring revenues for reoccurring expenses, such as salaries and benefits. This budget appears to use about 3 billion some of these kinds of revenues. That kind of scares me. It would mean an even bigger hole next year, especially if tax revenues continue to decline.
The members of the Governor’s own party have now lined up against him. The Governor had indicated that he would not sign a budget unless there was something related to pension reform either in it or passed separately. That did not happen and in a scene from Othello, fifteen of his own party made sure that the issue was recommitted to a committee, whose head, would not bring up the issue till the fall.
So we now have the budget passed by both houses, the Governor threatening not to sign it, and an implementation bill ( called the Fiscal Code), which implements the budget going back and forth like a ping pong ball between the houses. You can see how tiring going from office to office and trying to figure out what is going on would be.
It appears that the Republicans in the House are divided. I am not sure into how many factions, but there are at least four- Tea Party Conservatives, Young legislators who are constantly asking questions of the leadership, moderate Republicans who reach across the aisle for support sometimes, and those who vote no on anything. You can see from this formulation that it would be hard to cobble together a vote to pass most things.
That does not even include some Democrats, who sometimes cross the aisle, such as a transportation bill, to aid the Republicans. The animosity towards the Governor from his own party is palpable. Their complaints range from he never talks to us to he makes us vote on incredibly hard issues all of the time. The result being that the Governor has not gotten through an overwhelming part of his agenda- privatizing the lottery, privatizing the liquor stores, reforming pensions, school reform and others. The only thing he got through was the transportation bill, which needed a bunch of Democratic votes.


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