Pa. budget faces uncertain future
A House budget plan voted out of committee late Monday faces an uncertain future on the House floor and in the Senate.
And Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that he has concerns over the legislation, but he said there is still time to fix it before the state embarks on a new fiscal year Friday.
Wolf said he could not endorse a plan that he said is out of balance, and he hoped the Senate will fix its flaws, should it pass the House.
"I haven't agreed to this, and as far as I can tell there's still some things that need to be worked out," Wolf said during a regularly scheduled appearance on KQV-AM radio in Pittsburgh.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, voted Monday to move the nearly $31.6 billion budget plan out of the Appropriations Committee to the House floor even though he doesn't fully support the budget since it delays payments and doesn't address major cost drivers.
"That was a process move" to get it to the floor, he said. "We're a week behind."
The plan: The spending plan includes a $200 million boost for K-12 education, a $30 million increase in pre-kindergarten education funding and a $20 million influx for special education. There's also an added $20 million to address Pennsylvania's opioid drug crisis.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said the plan does not include money sought by Wolf and Democrats for distressed school districts, higher education institutions or heroin addiction treatment.
Higher education funding could be a sticking point for senators.
"Like any bill, it's imperfect," Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, acknowledged. "I don't think anyone who's a student of government or policies would describe the legislative process as delectable. This is an exercise in compromise."
Schreiber is also a member of the Appropriations Committee and voted for the budget.
Efforts to pass a budget ahead of the new fiscal year's start follows a record-breaking partisan budget stalemate in Wolf's first budget year, a deadlock that was not fully resolved until a few months ago.
Concessions: 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 plan 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 by Pennsylvania.
The bill that advanced out of Appropriations did not address new taxes, but supporters envision a package of higher levies on tobacco products as well as money from legislation pending in the House that would make Pennsylvania the fourth state to allow casino-style gambling online. Tax fights are perpetually divisive in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Grove said he's not a fan of relying on increased revenue from a higher taxes on tobacco products since the government also works to get smokers to kick the habit.
"You can't have one and the other. You can't have both," he said, adding a higher cigarette tax could drive smokers to buy tobacco out of state where it's cheaper.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
— Reach Greg Gross at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.