Wolf warns of ‘train wreck’ without balanced budget
HARRISBURG — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf warned Tuesday of huge cuts in spending for education and local services next year without a balanced budget as Pennsylvania lawmakers returned to the state Capitol.
Wolf said he is trying to avoid a “train wreck” of a budget that would also drive up local taxes to fill the void of state funding. The Republican-controlled House and Senate reconvened Tuesday amid a 7-month-old budget fight that’s left billions in school aid in limbo, but lawmakers took no action on budget-related legislation.
In two weeks, Wolf is scheduled to deliver a budget proposal for the 2016-17 fiscal year, despite significant portions of the current 2015-16 fiscal year still unfinished.
Wolf has pressed for a tax increase to deliver a record boost in public school aid and to fix a long-term deficit. But a bipartisan plan that had been negotiated by House and Senate Republican leaders stalled before Christmas, and Wolf said Republicans lawmakers have not figured out how to pay for the spending in a plan they sent to him before Christmas.
“If we don’t fix the budget deficit by 16-17, there are going to be huge cuts in education, and huge cuts in local services, so that local taxes are going to go up and services are going to decline,” Wolf said during a regular appearance on KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh. “So we need a real balanced budget, we need some honesty, we need fiscal responsibility. It’s not just me saying that, it’s the rest of the world looking at Pennsylvania and they’re going to watch us and we’ve got to get it right.”
Wolf said credit downgrades by rating agencies tied to the state’s budget deficit has driven up the cost of borrowing “all across the state,” leading to tax increases.
The bipartisan deal had called for a $30.8 billion spending package, a 6 percent increase, and a tax increase of more than $1 billion a year.
As the deal hit more roadblocks and lawmakers rushed to leave town for Christmas, the Republican-controlled Senate sent Wolf the main appropriations bill in a last-ditch, $30.3 billion budget package that had been written by House GOP majority leaders. All but two Democrats opposed it.
Wolf signed $23.4 billion of it, calling it emergency funding to prevent schools from closing and social service agencies from laying off more workers. However, Wolf vetoed billions for public schools to keep pressure on the Republican-controlled House to pass the bipartisan deal.