PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It was all happy times as Gov. Tom Wolf cut the ribbon to open the new Hulton Bridge, but there was no avoiding the nearly 4-month-old budget impasse in Harrisburg.
“Where are we? This has been unbelievably long,” KDKA political editor Jon Delano asked the governor on Tuesday.
“Yeah, and here’s the difficulty,” Wolf responded. “What’s different with these budget negotiations is that we have a mathematical problem with the budget. It doesn’t balance, and it hasn’t balanced for years, and that’s not just me saying this. Credit rating agencies keep downgrading us. We got to do something about that.”
Wolf says legislators want to spend money but refuse, so far, to raise taxes to pay for that spending.
“We have a bad situation. Mathematically, we got to fix it, and that’s what’s holding this up. There is a lot of denial. We got to get out of that, and I’m not going to be happy until we get out of denial and address the fundamental issues that our budget is not in balance. We’re not raising enough to spend the money we want to spend on things like this,” said Wolf, referring to the new bridge.
Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai says Wolf won’t give up trying to hike taxes.
“I think the governor is implacable. He won’t move. He won’t change,” says Turzai.
Wolf says he’s compromised to win Republican support for modest tax hikes to balance the budget.
“The Democrats, we’ve made huge compromises. We’ve made historic proposals when it comes to liquor. We’ve made historic proposals when it comes to pension reform,” insists Wolf.
For all the talk of compromise in Harrisburg, Republican leaders say it’s the governor’s fault, and that really House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans must work together to find the votes to override a governor’s veto.
Wolf says he cannot by bypassed, and warns failure to act makes it worse next year.
“If we don’t address that this year, we’re going to have a $2 billion plus deficit next year. That means a billion dollars from education, a billion dollars from human services. We’re going to have cuts the likes of which this Commonwealth has not seen in a generation, if ever,” predicts the governor.
At the bridge ribbon-cutting, Wolf noted that the new bridge was the result of Republicans and Democrats working together.
“This is a big deal for all of us because this is our government that is providing something that governments are supposed to do when we all work together on things that we all need.”
It’s stark contrast to the budget impasse where Wolf has been unable to rebuild that coalition to fund his budget, including more dollars for education.
“We need to solve the real budget problem which is we don’t have enough money, and that the smoke and mirrors of the past four or five years — that hasn’t done anything for us. That has actually put us deeper into the hole.”
The governor says legislators are in denial.
“We can be in denial. We can deny that it’s happening, but we’re in a deep hole, and we’ve got to face up to it.”
But Republicans, who control the legislature, say taxpayers don’t want Wolf’s higher income taxes or a tax on Marcellus shale drilling.
“We put a balanced budget on the governor’s desk on June 30. It was a $30.1 billion budget. It did not increase taxes,” says Speaker Turzai.
Turzai predicts enough Democratic legislators will soon join Republicans to pass a veto-proof budget.
“My Democratic colleagues in both the senate and the house — they’ve backed the governor enough — I think they’re going to be able to reach an agreement with us. I think it will be a veto-proof agreement. I think we’ll get it on the governor’s desk in the next three to four weeks,” predicts Turzai.
While House Democratic leader Frank Dermody says agreement is possible, the governor won’t be left out.
“He needs to be part of it. He has a plan for Pennsylvania. He was overwhelmingly elected by the voters of Pennsylvania,” notes Dermody. “Sure, he needs to be a part of it.”