Monthslong Pa. budget impasse over
The monthslong Pennsylvania budget impasse is over after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Wednesday that he won't follow through on his threat to veto the remaining $6.6 billion spending package sent to his desk last week.
"Sometimes the wisdom of Disney can appeal to someone: 'Let it go,'" said Rep, Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said, referring to a song from "Frozen." Grove had long urged Wolf to neither sign nor veto budgets sent to his desk, instead letting them become law after a 10-day waiting period.
Wolf reiterated his displeasure with the Republican-crafted spending plan, noting it fails to address the state's $2 billion structural deficit.
"The budget I have that was given to me doesn't work," he said during a news conference. "I can't in good conscience sign this bill."
The move by Wolf completes a $30 billion budget package, a 3 percent increase in spending over the previous fiscal year. The rollercoaster ride-esque impasse started in July when Wolf vetoed a GOP-budget similar to the one that will become law.
Proposed budget: Wolf sought a 20 percent increase in the personal income tax and a 10 percent hike in the state's sales tax rate as part of the budget he put forth more than a year ago. He also wanted a tax on gas drillers in the state and a $400 million increase in education and property tax relief to homeowners.
None of that was included in the budget that will become law. Republicans have long argued tax increases aren't needed.
"If anybody win, it's the taxpayers," Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, said. "I think it's been a long process. We're all tired."
The spending package would rely on a projected $30.9 billion in tax collections, plus an expected $50 million casino license fee, before subtracting more than $1.3 billion in refunds.
Education: The appropriations bill carries just over $3.1 billion for public school instruction and operations, which would bring the total appropriated for the year to $5.9 billion, a $200 million increase. Wolf had originally sought a $400 million increase, and the bipartisan deal that collapsed had contained $350 million.
Republican lawmakers from York County said they aren't happy with Wolf's pledge to veto a corresponding fiscal code bill that dictates how the money, including $150 million in basic education funding, will be spent.
"My concern is that he (Wolf) said he'll ... veto the fiscal code," said Sen. Pat Vance, R-York and Cumberland counties.
There is, however, a provision in the appropriations bill that allows the governor to release the funding, Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-Township, said.
The administration said the money will be distributed in the appropriate manner.
Borrowing: The impasse impacted numerous social service organizations and York County government, forcing some organizations to take out loans and the county to scale back some services. York County also had to take out a $20 million loan last fall but was able to repay it in January when funds from the partial budget were released.
If Wolf had followed through on his threat to veto the remnants of the budget, the impasse could have drawn out for an unknown amount of time.
"I think the Democrats in the General Assembly had enough and they weren't going to go down the path Gov. Wolf was leading them down," Grove said. "I'm fully convinced he wanted to do a full veto but the Democrats pushed back."
Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said it was highly symbolic that Wolf decided not to sign the budget.
"I guess it's nice to close a book on this. It's been a protracted chapter," he said. "I think the governor made the right decision."
Schreiber said he would have liked to have seen lawmakers address the structural deficit this fiscal year instead of pushing it further down the road.
With the budget set to become law on Sunday, lawmakers can now turn their sights on the 2016-17 fiscal year budget. In February, the Wolf administration released its budget proposal that again calls for tax increases and a boost in education spending.
"The priorities haven't changed, nor have the challenges," Schreiber said.
— Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.