Pa. state budget put to bed but questions remain about $1 billion in federal dollars

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The state budget was put to bed last week but there are still questions about what happened to a billion federal dollars that were intended to help struggling businesses but have instead, been swallowed up by line items.

With a pandemic and a wrecked economy, many lawmakers were preparing for a worst-case budget scenario.

Republican Representative, Torren Ecker, shared his concern with ABC27 News. “I thought there’d be a lot of spending cuts, we’d be looking at having to borrow money, we’d be looking at having to raise taxes.”

But a deal was struck. Couch cushions were raided. Special funds drained. Thumbs up from conservatives like Torren Ecker.

“They have way more money than they need to operate and it continues to be replenished every year,” Ecker added. “This is still taxpayer money.”

But helping to balance the budget books, $1.3 billion in federal cares act dollars, could have, and should have gone to struggling businesses according to Republican Representative Paul Schemel.

“All I’m saying is we were given this money by the federal government to distribute,” said Schemel. “It’s for relief of those suffering under COVID sequestrations and we should use it for that purpose.”

Democratic Senator Maria Collett saw Republican lawmakers rallying on the steps of the capitol promising to help struggling restaurant owners only to skip out on the bill.

“To have them at the 11th hour taking part in rallies and then voting on a budget that didn’t help anyone in the effective ways it could have is disappointing and disingenuous,” said Collet.

Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, signed the budget. He liked that the federal money kept him from laying off workers. Republicans liked that it prevented tax hikes or more borrowing. Schemel voted no but understands why his colleagues voted yes.

”They might have been looking at it saying well, ‘I agree it stinks but it’s a bad stinky sandwich we made last May and we now have to eat the rest of it.'” said Schemel.

Just as unappetizing, or more so, will be next year’s budget which is suddenly done in just over six months.

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