Pa. House GOP moves toward budget deadline

Greg Gross

As Pennsylvania's budget deadline looms, some York County lawmakers remain hopeful the Legislature will have a budget to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on time.

"I believe we'll have the budget to the governor's desk by the 30th (of June). Whether he agrees with it is another thing," said Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township.

The House Republican majority moved toward a roughly $31.5 billion spending plan, a 5 percent increase, and a package of tax increases on tobacco products whose support from Wolf was uncertain.The plan also includes legislation pending in the House to make Pennsylvania the fourth state to allow casino-style gambling online in a bid to raise more for the state treasury.

Another possible tax proposal kicked around last week is to revive a gross receipts tax on natural gas that utilities sell to consumers. It was a 5 percent tax — or an estimated $55 per household — when it was eliminated starting in 2000.

"Particularly low-income families would be hit hardest" by the tax, Saylor said, noting some people in the low-income bracket rely on a federally funded assistance program to help cover heating costs.

Movement:  The House and Senate could start voting on a budget later in the week. Some budget details remained unclear, and the GOP package outlined by House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, appears to fall short of Wolf’s latest request.

“We are doing our very best to try to put a product on the table that meets the criteria of what he’s put forth,” Reed told reporters in a brief interview Monday between meetings in the Pennsylvania Capitol.

Wolf’s press secretary, Jeff Sheridan, said the governor had not agreed to the plan outlined by Reed.

“As the governor has said, he is focused on a final budget that is balanced, invests in education and provides funding to combat the heroin crisis,” Sheridan said. “The governor looks forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to address these goals.”

The House Appropriations Committee was to reconvene Sunday but the meeting was canceled, something Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, who sits on the committee, saw as an indication that behind the scenes negotiations were still ongoing.

Is compromise in air as new budget deadline looms?

Compromise: It also was not clear Monday whether Democratic lawmakers or the Senate’s Republican majority would support the House GOP plan.

In any case, House Republicans have squeezed significant concessions from Wolf, who in February proposed a $33.3 billion spending plan — a 10 percent increase — backed by a $2.7 billion tax increase that also called for higher taxes on income, sales and Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

That had included a proposal to raise the per-pack cigarette tax to $2.60, from $1.60, and to extend a 40 percent wholesale tax to sales of larger cigars, loose tobacco, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes. Those products are currently untaxed.

In recent weeks, Wolf and Democrats had pressed for a budget of around $31.9 billion. That had included $250 million extra for public schools, or about 4 percent more, and enough money to balance a long-term deficit projected at $1.8 billion.

Reed said the House GOP’s package will include $200 million more for public schools operations and instruction, about a 3 percent increase, the same amount funding was increased by in the 2015-16 budget.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.