The state budget situation is very fluid at this point. As of late Friday evening, the Senate and House have adjourned without taking a single vote on any final budget related bill. They have plans for working through the weekend, but so far-- nada.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) summed up what was happening very nicely early Friday evening when he told the PA Legislative Services they have to get vehicles in position to move, but nothing is in ink yet.
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Not Much New
Here’s what we know so far, which is not much different than what we knew before Thanksgiving.
Senate and House Republicans are working hard to find the votes to pass the budget they and Gov. Wolf agreed to last week. The hardest nut to crack is raising $600 million, not to provide any property tax relief, but to balance what is expected to be a $30.7 billion General Fund budget and help fund $350 million in new education spending.
They have already, for the most part, ruled out raising the Personal Income and Sales Tax rates or enacting a new natural gas severance tax.
The one solution they’ve talked about is eliminating a laundry list of exemptions to the Sales Tax, including taxing items like museums, symphonies and businesses such as bowling alleys, amusement parks, golf courses, ski slopes and campgrounds, gym trainers and more.
Also on the table is an increase in the cigarette tax and other tobacco.
But nothing has been decided as of this writing.
In one possible bright spot, maybe, Philly.com reported Friday Gov. Wolf said there was an agreement with Senate and House Republicans on how to distribute the additional school funding to be included in the budget.
Talks also continue on changes to the state and school employee pension systems to incorporate a new 401(k)-type plan for new employees, but again, nothing is yet in the form of legislation.
Capitolwire.com reported late Friday pension language may not be ready to consider until late next week since it requires an actuarial note by the Public Employee Retirement Commission.
PennLive.com reported Friday, many lawmakers did not support making reforms in their own pensions, however.
A “lighter” version of liquor reform is also being discussed, but legislators are still far away from being ready to vote on any language. House Republicans continue to push for full privatization of the system, but Senate Republicans have not supported the House proposal. Gov. Wolf has been opposed to complete privatization.
Federal Funds Released
The Wolf Administration this week released federal funds, in this instance to fund local domestic violence shelters, at the apparent request of federal officials.
$30.4 Billion Already Spent
At a press conference Thursday, a group of conservative lawmakers unveiled a report saying the Wolf Administration has spent $30.4 billion in state and federal funding (mostly federal) since the budget impasse began on July 1.
At least $2.7 billion, they said, was through the use of waivers for spending previous fiscal year funds granted by the Administration.
"We've heard countless promises from Gov. Wolf pledging openness, accountability and transparency in his administration's operations," said Rep. Cris Dush (R-Jefferson). "This report clearly demonstrates an absolute betrayal of those promises to the people of this Commonwealth. Beyond the governor's lack of transparency to the people, he is circumventing the responsibility of the executive branch to be accountable to the Legislature. He is not a king. The Legislature writes the laws. His responsibility is to execute those laws. This is a Republic, not a dictatorship."
Counties Withhold Funds
Chester County joined Bucks County in withholding payments of fines, fees and other monies they normally pass along to the state until the budget impasse is resolved. For Chester that means about $4 million a month is being withheld from the state.
By the way, the state collected $1.8 billion more in tax revenue in November.
Stay tuned for more….
NewsClips:Sen. Scarnati: Budget Deal Still On For Now?