HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - It’s almost time to get serious at the Pennsylvania Capitol.
Almost, because this is only the second week that the state government has been operating without a budget - not long enough for most taxpayers to feel the legal constraints on spending $30 billion-plus of their money they rightfully expect to see invested in programs and services this year.
There’s still time for the Republicans who control the Legislature and freshman Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to come to terms on a compromise budget before the stalemate becomes a crisis.
But there had been time before the fiscal year ended June 30, too, and both sides spent it mostly talking past each other. Ultimately, Wolf vetoed a rash of bills the Legislature’s Republican majority passed without input from Wolf or Democrats.
Amid growing anxiety among nonprofits and county agencies over a potentially lengthy disruption of money that supports the state’s social-services safety net, there’s no indication of a restart of budget talks or that positions are softening.
“Instead of working with the General Assembly to move Pennsylvania forward, Gov. Wolf continues to be fixated on massive income and sales tax increases,” GOP leaders said in Thursday statement. “For someone who has pledged to create a ‘government that works,’ he’s certainly doing everything he can to make sure it doesn’t.”
On Friday, Wolf sounded determined to get an agreement on the budget, but not ready to bow to Republican ideas.
“Pennsylvanians voted for divided government. They didn’t vote for dysfunction,” he said. “We will agree on a budget. I can’t predict how long it’s going to take.”
“I think we all want to do what’s right for Pennsylvania. I think (Republican leaders) have different ideas and I don’t think their ideas are as good as mine,” the governor said.
The GOP held taxes steady in its budget plan, with a $200 million increase for education, and passed two bills it had been unable to pass under Wolf’s Republican predecessor: the privatization of the state-controlled sale of liquor and wine and an overhaul of state pensions for future state and school employees.
Wolf vetoed all three bills and said the GOP budget was loaded with gimmicks. He renewed his pitch for a multibillion-dollar plan to increase taxes on income, sales, natural-gas drilling, banks and tobacco products to expand state aid for education by $800 million, reduce local property taxes and balance a state budget deficit.
Wolf and Republicans are not the only ones sparring.
Two national advocacy groups went on the air this week to draw public attention to the budget debate.
America Works USA, an affiliate of the Washington-based Democratic Governors Association, began airing a pro-Wolf TV ad urging viewers to “tell the Legislature to get serious and pass a real budget.” It spent more than $500,000 to air the 30-second spot statewide for 10 days, a spokesman said.
The group also sponsored direct mailings targeting Republican lawmakers and aired a radio ad in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in which Wolf chided the GOP for passing a “fantasyland” budget and allowing Pennsylvania to remain the only major gas-producing state that does not charge the industry a severance tax.
On the other side is Americans for Prosperity, an Arlington, Virginia-based organization founded by the conservative billionaire energy executives Charles and David Koch. It launched a radio ad in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh this week that says Wolf is “cooking up schemes to hike your taxes.”
So, is it time to get serious about the budget? Almost.
Peter Jackson is the Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.