HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) – The good news — the state legislature has passed a budget on time.
The $31.5 billion dollar budget pumps more money into some initiatives, like a $200 million increase in basic education, $30 million for early education, $20 million for special education, $40 million for higher education, $15 million to combat the heroin and opioid crisis, $11 million to hire 180 new state troopers, and $5.4 million dollars to spray against West Nile and Zika carrying mosquitos.
But the bad news is that the budget is not paid for — to the tune of $1.3 billion, say some.
And lawmakers are still wrestling over how to pay for it.
“We’re close to an agreement, but we’re not there,” House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody of Oakmont told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.
Dermody says the Republican plan still comes up short in revenue.
In a statement, Governor Wolf noted, “I will sign the general appropriations bill as soon as there is a sustainable revenue package to pay for it
Nobody likes increased taxes, but with this state budget passed on time already a billion dollars in the hole, some taxes are going to have to go up.
The question today is, which ones?
Wolf has ruled out any increase in the income or sales tax, so what’s left?
“Cigarette taxes. Maybe taxes on alcohol,” suggests Angela Calfo of Blawnox.
Adding a dollar a pack to the $1.60 tax already levied on a pack of cigarettes is in the works, and possibly expanding it to smokeless products and e-cigarettes.
“I don’t really have any experience with gambling, but maybe you could tax that just like anything else,” says Angela Colaizzi of Cranberry.
The House wants to expand gaming to the internet and tax it, including fantasy sports games — and is also counting on new revenue from liquor modernization.
Dermody says raising any taxes in an election year is tough.
“Absolutely. It’s most difficult but it needs to be done.”