Deciphering The Befuddling Budget Situation

Feb 1, 2016

90.5 WESA Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer spoke with  House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) and  Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) about their concerns and the public’s perception that lawmakers can’t get along.  

Costa blamed lawmakers' philosophical differences.

“At the end of the day, we recognize that we want to do many similar things, investing in education, human service programs, economic development (and) job growth,” he said. “The question becomes about how we go about doing that.”

In November, Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders devised the framework of a $30.8 billion budget, but House Republicans said the state couldn't afford it. The GOP-controlled legislature on Dec. 23 passed a $30.3 billion spending plan. Six days later Wolf, using a line item veto, released $23.3 billion -- $7 billion less than Republican lawmakers approved.  Wolf said the partial budget would deliver enough in emergency funds to keep schools open and for human services provided by counties while lawmakers returned to work on a complete budget.

Costa and others have suggested alternative forms of taxation and revenue generators, including state liquor store reform.

“Senate Democrats have put on the table a wine and spirit modernization proposal that would generate almost $150 to 200 million. That’s just one of the other ways we can look to do something along those lines,” he said.

Costa also proposed a severance tax on fracking and an online gambling tax.

Reed said he agreed with Costa that both parties often work well together, he said, but he’s frustrated by the “dysfunction in Harrisburg over the last six months.”

Reed said Wolf’s ideas have prevented its passage and that the governor has been too aggressive with his proposals. Too many big-spending projects are holding everyone back, he said.

“It was a perfectly acceptable platform for an entire four years in office, (but) to try to accomplish all his spending and tax requests in the first six months of his four-year term is just not possible,” he said.

Reed said the state needs to have a more stable fiscal platform, but agreed with Costa that state liquor and gaming laws are ripe for reform.

Costa argued Wolf made compromises, cutting spending by $1 billion from his original proposal.

Reed countered, "Look, when you start at ridiculous and you come back to crazy, that’s not necessarily compromise and meeting in the middle.”

Taxes, he said, remain Republicans biggest stumbling block.

“By the time we worked through November and December, the only thing left at the end was higher taxes for increased spending,” Reed said. “We absolutely backed away from that agreement, because that was not the original framework that was put together and agreed to with the parties at the table.”

When asked whether legislators have been paid throughout the budget stalemate, answers varied.

“The legislature is getting paid, yes,” Reed said. “House (and) Senate, each member chooses for themselves whether they want to accept that paycheck.”

Costa said he has not been paid since the beginning of the stalemate in July.

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