Last week, lawmakers in Harrisburg were optimistic of ending the budget impasse during special meetings and voting sessions scheduled for the weekend. With Monday now upon us, however, all signals from the capital show the optimism has evaporated.
During that short period, the State Senate showed its intent to push forward with a total spending plan of $30.8 billion accompanied by a $1.2 billion tax increase to pay for “historic” increases in education funding, Marc Levy and Mark Scolforo of the Associated Press report.
On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill to ensure Gov. Tom Wolf would get his $350 million in additional education money, though there is debate over where the new tax revenue will come from, Charles Thompson of PennLive reports. The only tax hike that can be expected in the final budget as of now is an increase in the state’s cigarette tax, currently $1.06/pack.
An increase of 0.1% in the state’s income tax rate could generate an additional $414 million annually, though the move has proven unpopular in the legislature.
GOP Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne said it would take around $650 to $700 million to balance the budget for the fiscal year that started over 25 weeks ago.
The Senate’s budget package includes major pension reform measures, as well as a bill to allow consumers to purchase wine in some supermarkets before sending the budget package to the PA House.
The House is expected to strengthen the privatization provisions of the bill, with Speaker Mike Turzai one of the state’s biggest supporters for the complete sale of the state’s 601 Wine & Spirits stores. Just after vetoing the GOP’s budget at the end of June, Wolf rejected a Republican-crafted bill to privatize the entire liquor industry.
The Governor’s office hit out at House GOP members on Friday, saying the chamber is “controlled by extreme right-wing members that kowtow to special interests.” The statement prompted Turzai to call Wolf “far to the left.”
“He does not really ever talk about the hardworking men and women who have to pay the taxes,” Turzai rebutted.
Some in the Senate are worried about the House changing their bills, having negotiated them with help from House leadership and the governor’s office to ensure passage, Chris Comisac and Kevin Zwick of Capitolwire report.
“They have to be careful about all the stuff they’re trying to amend,” Drew Crompton, chief of staff and legal counsel to Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, told Capitolwire. “I mean all those were battles that we have a lot of welts from.”
“There are five sides to the equation,” he explained.
As the first half of the 2015-16 fiscal year comes to an end, school districts and counties are approaching the $1 billion mark in terms of borrowing, while some have not survived the six-month standoff.