Republican budget passes state House
HARRISBURG — The state House on Saturday approved a Republican-crafted $30.1 billion budget that doesn’t raise taxes but moves the state closer to a budget impasse with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is threatening to veto it.
A final Senate vote is likely Tuesday. If the budget is unchanged, Wolf said he would veto it. Changes are highly unlikely because Senate GOP leaders worked with top House Republicans to draft it.
The House approved the bill 112-77 largely along party lines. The new fiscal year begins Wednesday.
The budget boosts spending 3.6 percent, and provides $100 million for basic education and $20 million for special education. It’s a budget that demonstrates “responsible fiscal management” taxpayers want and expect, said Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County.
Democrats charged it as phony. It uses “voodoo numbers,” said Rep. Curtis Thomas, D-Philadelphia.
Wolf hasn’t said whether he’ll veto the entire budget or use his line-item veto pen to remove certain expenditures. “That’s a decision he’ll make when there’s a budget on his desk,” said Budget Secretary Randy Albright.
With the deadline looming, both chambers will hold unusual Sunday sessions.
For the first time, lawmakers included funding from selling the state stores and leasing the state’s wholesale control of liquor and wine in a state budget. The budget includes $220 million annually from what the GOP calls liquor reform. Wolf opposes selling the state stores.
The budget-related package will include a GOP bill that ends guaranteed benefits for most new state employees, who would get 401(k)-type plans instead. That will include incumbent legislators’ pension benefits if they are re-elected, said House State Government Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry. “We’re leading by example,” he said. A modified version of a Senate-passed bill was approved in Metcalfe’s committee Saturday. He expects final passage Tuesday.
The impasse at the start of the fiscal year was foreseeable, given the entrenched positions of GOP legislative leaders and the governor. It became increasingly clear over the past week as closed-door negotiations stalled.
“Ray Charles could see this one … back in November,” Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia, ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters. He said the budget is “clearly a sham” and compared it to budgets from former Gov. Tom Corbett, the Republican defeated by Wolf.
But House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County, said the budget gives lawmakers a choice to avoid the “massive tax increases” proposed by Wolf and meet the state’s Constitutional obligation to send a budget to the governor’s desk by the end of the day Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said the budget would “keep government working while we continue to negotiate a number of items over weeks and months.”
If Wolf rejects the budget, “he’ll be the one person that shuts down government. I don’t think Pennsylvania has had to deal with that (a full veto) in 40 years,” Reed said.
Albright said Wolf believes the GOP budget is a “step backward” for Pennsylvania.
The governor said the budget doesn’t reflect his tax and spending priorities, including a natural gas tax extraction tax, closing a $1.2 billion deficit without “gimmicks,” and property tax relief. Republicans say Wolf’s plan would raise taxes more than $4 billion and increase state spending 16 percent.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].