HARRISBURG (KDKA) — Without knowing how they will pay for it, state lawmakers adopted a budget that spends $31.996 billion before the midnight constitutional deadline.
“I’m thrilled that we passed a budget on time, and this is a budget we can be proud of,” PA Sen. Guy Reschethaler, a Jefferson Hills Republican, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Friday.
“I do like this budget deal, Jon,” added PA Sen. Jay Costa, the Democratic Senate Leader from Forest Hills.
Costa and Reschenthaler were among the 43 out of 50 senators who voted for the budget.
The House vote was similarly bipartisan, 173 to 27.
Reschenthaler hailed the cap on spending.
“It only grows government spending by 0.2 percent, while revenue is up by two or three percent, and it funds education which is a top priority for me.”
In fact, it boosts basic education by $100 million with $32 million for early childhood education, and funds other stated goals of Governor Wolf, says Costa.
“More money into special education. Economic development dollars that help to grow jobs and develop jobs in Pennsylvania, as well as maintaining funding level for our human services agencies,” notes Costa.
But it’s basically a hold-the-line budget.
“A lot of it was just flat-lined funding,” says Reschenthaler.
The compromise budget essentially restored a lot of the proposed cuts made in an original House Republican budget, but it assumes a deficit that some estimate could be $2 billion over two years.
Delano: “Do you think that it makes sense to pass a spending bill without passing a revenue bill?”
Reschenthaler: “It’s problematic, and I’m not going to hide that fact.”
Costa says it happens all the time.
“It is very common for us to go past June 30 on the ancillary bills that are part of it, and that’s exactly what happened this year and it’s happened for the last number of years.”
Costa said legislative leaders would work over the holiday to reach a revenue agreement.
“We do have a very difficult challenge.”
“That’s going to be the hard work to get something done. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to make some tough choices to fund this. I have every confidence we will be able to work together to be able to get that done.”
Governor Wolf has ruled out any increases in the personal income tax or sales tax, which makes expanded gaming, including video gaming in bars and taverns, a real possibility.
“We have 40,000 illegal video gaming terminals (VGT’s) that are in Pennsylvania,” says Reschenthaler, who supports expanded gaming.
“It’s time to bring them out of the shadows, legalize them, tax them.”
Reschenthaler estimates tax revenue of $350 million.
But Costa says VGT competition will hurt Pennsylvania’s casinos.
“We have to remember that casinos are our partners. They generate in excess of a billion dollars in revenue for our local communities and our commonwealth.”
Costa would prefer a tax on Marcellus shale drilling, especially since taxpayers are underwriting the new cracker plant.
But Reschenthaler says no to that.
“They’re taxed enough. We’re trying to grow jobs and grow the economy. You don’t do that by having punitive taxes on a particular industry.”
Differences like these demonstrate how hard a revenue compromise will be.