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Lines Drawn In The Sand, PA Budget Process Gets Underway

Budget hearings got off to a testy start in the state Capitol as the Wolf administration defended the governor’s spending proposal on Monday, the first day of three weeks of scheduled hearings.

The Capitol hasn’t fully emerged from last year’s budget stalemate over taxes and spending, but lawmakers are launching into this year’s planning process, even if it’s not clear how the Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature can meet in the middle.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) asked to keep the focus of questions on the next year’s budget proposal – even as the current year’s spending is unresolved.  

“It is safe to say that we will discuss the ‘15-‘16 budget in this room, and those discussions hopefully will continue, but I don’t know if we’re going to be able to come to any type of resolution,” said Adolph.

As the Senate Appropriations Committee dug in, the back-and-forth quickly veered into decisions in budgets past.

Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) prodded Budget Secretary Randy Albright for a simple answer to his question about how many years the state has faced a spending shortfall.

“I don’t need a soliloquy on the economy, I understand it,” said Mensch. “How many years were there structural deficits in the last 20 years, last 30 years, that you recall?”

“Since 2008, it’s been chronic,” said Albright.

To fill this year’s budget hole -- and put more money toward schools -- Governor Tom Wolf is asking for an array of tax hikes. Top GOP lawmakers say they’re opposed to that option. On Monday, a House GOP committee unveiled an effort to find potential savings in the state’s roughly $30 billion budget.

Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) promised to lobby his colleagues to oppose any tax increases.

“This is going to be another difficult year,” said Wagner.