HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Weeks of budget hearings began in the state House on Tuesday as lawmakers try to plot a course out of a pandemic-ravaged economy. It will not be easy and they are far from agreement.
Good news: The state is about 600 million ahead of projections.
“It’s true. There’s been a quick bounce-back in the economy throughout the fall,” Dan Hassell, Pa. Revenue Secretary, said.
But Republicans accuse the Wolf Administration of lowballing the number to make the picture bleaker than it is.
“He wants to tax more, he wants to spend more, we believe we need to continue to tighten our belts and use the resources we have just like the hard-working families across Pennsylvania,” Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford, Franklin, Fulton) said.
Asked about economic racial disparity, Revenue Secretary Hassell pointed to a minimum wage hike and tax forgiveness on the middle class.
“Both of those proposals would be helpful to people of color in particular,” Hassell said.
But increasing income taxes on higher earners and eliminating them for lower earners seems to be a non-starter.
“This idea that we’re gonna shift the taxes to one group of people and forgive taxes for another group of people isn’t [more fair]. A flat tax is simple and fair,” Rep. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland) said.
Rep. Matt Bradford (D-Appropriations Chairman) says it’s simple.
“3.07 out of a million dollars doesn’t effect your bottom line the way 3.07 does out of 50,000. It’s that simple. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt, we’ve had a progressive tax system in this country. Pennsylvania does not,” Bradford said.
And Pennsylvania has not raised its minimum wage for 12 years, which is long past due according to Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin County).
“Those who get a higher minimum wage have more money in their pockets, they buy shoes, they buy kids their braces, it goes straight back into the economy. The time is now,” Kim said.
…Or not. The political calculus says Democrats will get what Republicans in the majority choose to give them.
“I think they’re asking for the moon and hoping a star comes into play at this point,” Topper said.
The House hearings will last several weeks followed by Senate Appropriations hearings that will run until April.