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Politics & Government

Warring PA Budget Figures Mount in Spending Talks

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Matt Rourke
/
Associated Press

The state budget discussions are a week old, and lawmakers are mired in dueling numbers.

Governor Tom Wolf's administration has referred to a $2.3 billion budget deficit, but the state Independent Fiscal Office estimates the deficit to be a bit south of that figure.

"We would revise it down to something closer to $1.5 or $1.6" billion, said IFO Director Matthew Knittel, during his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee. Knittel said his agency's estimate accounts for lapses -- budget funds that were never spent.

Republicans said the IFO's lower estimate casts doubt on Wolf's urgent calls for new revenue.

"It makes that demand for higher taxes a lot less relevant," said Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland). "We don't need to go looking for those other revenue sources."

But Democrats said the big picture remains the same: the state is out of money.

"Right now we know we have a tremendous structural deficit," said Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny), ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "There's no sense in quibbling about the numbers. The low numbers are very high."

Lawmakers also dispute the "total spend" proposed by Wolf. His administration bills the proposed budget as a $29.9 billion spending plan. Republicans point out that when counting special funds for pension costs and property tax relief, the total comes to more than $33 billion.