HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – T-minus 25 days and counting.
The Pennsylvania budget is due June 30. Last year, it was a historic nine months late.
“I can’t sit here with a straight face and say we’re gonna get this done on time because I don’t even know if there is an on time anymore,” Representative Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) said.
Last year, there was much to divide Democrats and Republicans. This year, they both agree, at least, on one point.
“We can’t have a repeat of what happened last year,” Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne/Pike/Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming) said. “The budget is a core mission and a core function and we’ll be working diligently over the next few weeks to have something in place. I don’t want to go home without a vote and I’d certainly prefer to have a budget done on time.”
“Nobody wants to go through a protracted impasse like last year,” agrees Jeff Sheridan, Governor Wolf’s spokesman. “It did damage to human service agencies. It did damage to our schools. We don’t want to go through that again. We can’t go through that again.”
OK, so neither side wants a protracted standoff. Both sides also generally agree that the books don’t balance to the tune of at least $1.2 billion.
“The question is how are we gonna extract it from your pocket?” Vereb asked. “That’s where the philosophical boundaries kick in. We can do it with people who are smoking and dying, we can do it with people who are gambling and losing their homes, or we can just do some other type of broad-based tax.”
Additional revenue options haven’t changed in the past year. They could come from tobacco taxes, or online and expanded gaming, or privatizing liquor sales, or a tax on Marcellus Shale drillers. Last year, the governor was insistent on a hike in income or sales taxes. He’s backed off a bit this year.
“If the legislature feels we can close this gap with sustainable revenue that does not include a broad-based tax increase, we’ll have that conversation,” Sheridan said.
Hear that? A kinder, gentler tone. No bombast in the soundbite. All sides agree that negotiations, albeit early and not yet to a contentious stage, are more civil.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Browne (R-Lehigh) chalks it up to Governor Wolf having a better understanding of the General Assembly and more realistic goals in terms of taxing and spending.
“The governor has never been in the business of working in a democratic institution, right? He’s run businesses. So, part of the first year for any governor is adjusting to that,” Browne said.
There is increased civility in some corners at the Capitol, but not all.
“I will not vote for any tax increases,” Senator Scott Wagner (R-York) said. He blames Wolf and Wolf alone for last year’s impasse and insists there’s $3 billion in potential savings and efficiencies that could cut the deficit without raising taxes.
“If we can’t squeeze $1.2 billion out of that $3 billion, we should turn out the lights and all go home,” Wagner said. “We shouldn’t be here. I will repeat again – we don’t have a revenue problem up here, we have a spending problem.”
Sheridan says the Wolf Administration helped to identify several savings and efficiencies in government, but the math still requires recurring revenue.
“We can’t erase the deficit and balance the budget on cuts and savings alone,” Sheridan said.
So, the budget tone is definitely nicer. The starting points are closer together. It is an election year and no lawmaker wants to face voters in November without having long ago put the budget to bed.
Conventional wisdom suggests that all of the ingredients are there for a quick resolution to the budget.
But then again, it is Harrisburg, a place where wisdom doesn’t always prevail.Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download the ABC27 News App and the ABC27 Weather App for your phone and tablet.