Budget Stalemate Continues Into 80th Day; Arbitrary Cuts Looming

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — It has been 80 days since state lawmakers approved a spending plan without passing a way to pay for it.

Now a resolution seems no closer today than ever.

“The governor will soon have no choice but to have to make serious cuts,” PA Rep. Joe Markosek of Monroeville told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday.

The challenge — how to fill a $2 billion gap between what lawmakers voted to spend and what they expect to take in from existing taxes.

Markosek, Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, blames House Republicans.

“What we all need to do — all four caucuses and the governor’s office — is sit down and negotiate a budget which is what we’ve done these 35 years except for this crew in the House Republicans who don’t want to talk to anybody else,” says Markosek. “They don’t even agree with the Senate Republicans.”

Senate Republicans, with the support of Democrats and the governor, approved a revenue package last July that raises some taxes, including a severance tax on natural gas drilling.

But House Republicans don’t like that.

They just approved their own revenue plan that critics say takes money from funds already earmarked for public transit, environmental protection, economic development, and public safety.

“They’re just robbing other funds. They’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” says Markosek.

This week the Senate begins to consider the House Republican bill, PA Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, a Jefferson Hills Republican, says House Republicans took 48 days to pass a tax plan.

“We just can’t turn around after 48 days and come up with our own plan. We have to review what was handed to us. We have to make sure it’s fiscally responsible. We have to make sure it works,” says Reschenthaler.

And he says he still hopes for a bi-partisan plan to end the deadlock.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll come up with a plan,” he said, “and I’m hopeful that we’ll work together to make sure we get something accomplished.”

 

Late Monday afternoon, Senate Republicans said they would not agree to the House Republican revenue plan, preferring to find a better compromise.

“I think we need to focus right now on working together, reaching across the aisle and just get this budget done,” adds Reschenthaler.

But the delay in doing that has some worried that Pennsylvanians are about to feel the hit.

“We’re going to see very, very painful cuts coming down the road here, and they will affect all of us,” says Markosek.

Markosek says when actual spending exceeds revenues, the governor will have no choice but to deny payments to some.

“It’s going to include education, health care, right down the line, transit — these things are very bad for a lot of Pennsylvanians,” he said.

The governor has already delayed Medicaid reimbursement payments to certain medical professionals, but his office would not signal where future delays could occur.

PA Rep. Mark Mustio, a Moon Republican, says lawmakers should not be rushed into a bad revenue package by threatened cuts, and he’s not concerned with threatened cuts.

“No. I’m not concerned. It’s a cash flow situation,” he said.”

Mustio says revenue is still coming in to pay the bills.

“We’re still paying our personal income tax in our pay checks when we get paid every week. We’re still paying sales tax when we buy items at the store,” notes Mustio. “Just because there’s not a plan signed into law doesn’t mean people stop paying their taxes. Revenue is coming in. In fact, revenue is higher this July and August than they were last July and August.”

But Markosek says Penn State and Pitt are still not funded, and he says the only way to get a revenue deal that both Democrats and Republicans agree on is for the public to intervene.

“Until now, I don’t think there’s been a big outcry from the local citizenry,” he said.

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