PA-BGT: One Week to Cut Deals
Having only passed the 2015-16 budget in the last week of March – nine months after the June 30th deadline – Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers now seem optimistic they can pass the 2016-17 on time, or at least before too long.
On Wednesday, Wolf made it clear that he has been willing to bend on key issues for legislative Republicans, but now he wants some new funding in return.
“Four months after his budget address, and after talking with Republicans and Democrats about how to achieve a responsible budget, Gov. Wolf has compromised on issues ranging from taxes to liquor reform, while making it clear that we need to invest in education, fight the opioid crisis and truly balance the budget with sustainable revenue,” Wolf’s press secretary Jeff Sheridan said in a press release.
Two weeks ago, Wolf got the ball rolling when he signed a liquor reform bill, the top priority for many House Republicans, including Speaker Mike Turzai. Wolf has also indicated he is willing to sign either of the pension reform bills currently in the legislature, the top priority for many Senate Republicans.
Earlier this week, Wolf scratched his proposals for increased sales and income taxes, which bogged down negotiations for months last year. The Governor is still looking for a “responsible” tax on cigarettes to generate new long-term, sustainable revenue, Sheridan said.
Wolf has also knocked over $1 billion off his initial proposal since the budgeting process began in February by flat-funding many state programs, Sheridan added. The Governor’s final budget stands at $33.3 billion.
Wolf is scaling back his demands for additional education funding in his second year, looking for $250 million for basic education funding, and $30 million each for special education and early childhood education in the 2016-17 budget.
The sophomore Governor has made fighting the opioid epidemic in PA one of his top priorities this year, calling for $34 million to construct 50 opioid and heroin abuse treatment centers.
There is just one week to finalize a budget, though lawmakers likely see June 30th as a soft deadline after the fiasco over last year’s budget.