House GOP proposes funding state budget with fund transfers
A group of rank-and-file state House Republicans believe they have found more than $2.4 billion in existing funds to avoid adding any new taxes in their 2017-18 budget, more than two months overdue.
The 18 House Republicans — including Reps. Dawn Keefer, Dillsburg; Seth Grove, Dover Township; Kristin Phillips-Hill, York Township; Kate Klunk, Hanover; and Keth Gillespie, Hellam Township — announced their proposal, which they called the Taxypayers' Budget, on Tuesday, Sept. 5, at the Capitol.
Rep. Dan Moul, of Adams County, said the group had been working together on their plan about six weeks, since the Republican-controlled Senate narrowly approved a $2.2 billion revenue package centered on borrowing and tax increases on utility services.
The House GOP plan relies heavily on one-time fund transfers from special or restricted funds that the legislators say are currently operating with a surplus.
Those transfers would include more than $350 million from the Public Transportation Trust Fund, $100 million from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, and $5 million from the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund.
Rep. Joe Emrick, of Northampton County, said the group's members used specific rules when deciding whether to take from a fund in order to ensure there was no bias.
Those rules included ensuring there were no legal restrictions on transferring money from the fund and that taking the money wouldn't have a significant impact on operations of the department that uses each fund.
Emrick added that there is precedent for such transfers in many of these funds.
"The bottom line is we're standing up for the taxpayers," Keefer said.
While the plan was created by the rank-and-file representatives, Keefer said leadership for the Republican-controlled House is supportive.
House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Keefer added that they expect to work with the Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf to pass this budget revenue package.
Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, said she had not yet seen the plan.
Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, attended the group's news conference Tuesday and said he believed they were doing the right thing, though he hadn't had a chance to review all the details yet.
Wagner, who voted against the Senate revenue package, said Harrisburg can't keep operating the same way.
A gubernatorial candidate for 2018, Wagner added that if he were governor, he would be working with groups like this to get the budget completed.
J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf's office, wrote in an email statement that the House GOP plan fails to address the challenges facing the state Legislature.
"Raiding these funds will mean cuts to programs," he wrote. "There is no way around it."
Wolf has warned that he will have to start freezing some state spending if lawmakers don't pass a revenue package by Sept. 15.
The governor allowed a $32 billion budget spending bill to pass in early July without his signature.
— Reach David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.