Pennsylvania lawmakers tackle temporary five-month state budget as COVID-19 uncertainty looms

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania lawmakers have pressed pause on the pandemic, and are briefly turning their attention to the state budget.

But with uncertainty looming about COVID-19 and what effects it’ll have on tax revenues, the legislature is taking a different approach.

They’re proposing a temporary five-month budget instead of a full 12-month spending plan, saying that smaller option gives the state more time to see how the economy recovers.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate collectively feel there isn’t enough data available right now to make informed decisions about what the future will require.

The Pa. House passed the temporary $25.8 billion budget Tuesday, 103-99, hours after it was unveiled, sending it to the Senate for consideration there.

“I think it’s probably a smart way to look at how to do this because right now we don’t know where the economy is going,” said Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster).

He said with the last two-plus months consumed by coronavirus, they’re finally switching gears for a few days to address the ‘elephant in the room.’ Martin feels this temporary budget — which will run out Nov. 30 — allows for greater certainty for constituents and those depending on state funding.

“If the economy doesn’t rebound and we don’t have the revenues, then we don’t have the obligations that were made to whatever line item is there,” he said. “This is what we’re gonna budget, this is what people are going to get, and we’re gonna reexamine this after we see where the economy goes.”

With a current deficit of almost $5 billion, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said a 12-month budget just didn’t make sense.

“If we had to do a full 12-month budget now, two things would have to occur: we’d have to find revenue to the tune of four or five billion dollars, and also make significant drastic cuts,” Costa said. “We have to always recognize that we have to figure out where we’re gonna find revenue, as we go forward, and what the cuts are gonna be, the reductions — it’s gonna be a combination of those types of things.”

The $25.8 billion package does fully fund some items for a whole year, like certain food programs and education.

“We’re gonna fully fund education based upon last year’s numbers including special ed, early learning programs, head start,” Costa said.

A two-part budget, Costa added, also allows the state to better allocate approximately $2 billion in federal stimulus money.

“Right now, the [U.S] house has passed the HEROES Act that provides significant funding for both state and local governments,” Costa said.

“I think all of us are struggling to know what the fiscal situation is gonna look like during the course of the whole next fiscal year, so we are doing some unusual things,” Gov. Tom Wolf said.

This temporary budget includes no new taxes and will now be in the Senate until at least Thursday, which is when a vote could occur.

If passed without amendments, it will go to Gov. Wolf’s desk.

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