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New Fiscal Year Begins Without A Budget; Old Fiscal Year Ends With A Surplus

While Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislative leaders continue to battle over a new budget: how much to spend, where to get the necessary revenues — tax hikes? — the Department of Revenue reports that the commonwealth ended Fiscal Year 2014-15 with a surplus.

“About $412 million, which is 1.4 percent above the estimate that was set last July,” said department spokesperson Elizabeth Brassell.

“It’s always nice to be a little above estimates at the end of a fiscal year as opposed to being below and facing some of those decisions regarding [spending] cuts. However, we really strive for accuracy. We try to get the estimates as close to where we think the money’s going to come in as possible.”

For the fiscal year, the department pulled in $30.6 billion; the largest chunk came from the Person Income Tax (PIT): $12.1 billion or about 40 percent of the total take.

The other major levy on individuals — the sales tax — generated $9.5 billion or 31 percent of total revenues.

According to Brassell, corporation tax income for the year totaled $5.1 billion, 4.9 percent higher than expected. She said that’s “promising.”

“But corp tax is really a difficult tax to estimate for a year because there are some tax planning strategies that can carry from one year to another and impact multiple fiscal years. So, it’s a promising sign, but we don’t know that it’s necessarily the bottom line a future of continual growth.”

Only one category was lower than anticipated for FY 14-15; realty transfer tax revenues totaled $413.8 million, or 7.5 percent below estimates, indicating a less robust housing market than was expected.

Brassell says there was an “anomaly” in the June collections of non-tax revenues — a negative $3.4 million due in the most part to the state not receiving $125 million for the sale of licenses for new casinos. 

“Those licenses weren’t issued to a casino so I think there may have been some anticipation last year that another casino might come on board or table licenses may be granted,” Brassell said. “I don’t know that I’ve seen a negative in awhile.”

So whenever a new budget is enacted, the state will at least start off with a $400 million surplus from last year.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm