Wolf: Pennsylvanians will ‘get hurt’ if budget isn’t funded

Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf warned Tuesday that Pennsylvanians will “get hurt” if state lawmakers do not pass a revenue package to balance a nearly $32 billion budget bill they approved more than two months ago.

Gov. Tom Wolf

Wolf also said his decision day is Sept. 15, when he will have to start freezing some spending to prevent the state’s main bank account from going below zero.

“I’ve been trying to make ends meet, but the string of things I can do really runs out next Friday,” Wolf told interviewers during a regularly scheduled appearance on KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh. “So I don’t know why this brinksmanship seems to be something that’s attractive to some of the members of the House Republican leadership, but it’s certainly not helping Pennsylvania.”

No House votes were scheduled this week, and the Republican-controlled House was scheduled to return to session in Harrisburg on Monday for the first time since July 22.

More: Wolf to GOP: State’s finances will soon be ‘much more dire’

Freezing spending could affect roads, schools, emergency response systems and volunteer fire companies, Wolf warned.

“If the money isn’t there to pay for those things, then Pennsylvanians are going to get hurt,” Wolf said.

The stalemate with Republican lawmakers is the second in Wolf’s three years in office. The first budget fight lasted nine months, ending in spring 2016, and another protracted stalemate seems likely to draw a downgrade to Pennsylvania’s battered credit rating, increasing the state government’s borrowing costs.

Many House Republicans say they are committed to passing a revenue package to fully support the budget bill they approved, plus another $600 million in annual aid to five universities — Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln universities and the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school — that is held up in the stalemate. The package amounted to a 3 percent spending increase.

But House Republicans also complain that Wolf did not freeze spending earlier, and they object to the tax increases on utility services and borrowing in a $2.2 billion bipartisan revenue package that the Republican-controlled Senate approved in July.

Wolf supports the Senate’s revenue package, which also relies on a new tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production and prospective licensing fees by authorizing another expansion of casino gambling across Pennsylvania.

Wolf last week authorized what he called “a very short-term” loan from the state’s Motor License Fund — which supports transportation projects and safety — to ensure he could make payments on time for two more weeks.

In the meantime, House Republican leaders have allowed rank-and-file members to float suggested solutions to the revenue shortfall, including siphoning cash from off-budget programs for things like transportation projects or emergency response centers.