State Budget Still Nowhere in Sight
By Rep. Dave Hickernell
Oct. 19, 2015
It is now well over 100 days since June 30, when a state budget should have been enacted. The latest vote in the General Assembly and comments by Gov. Tom Wolf have made it even more unclear when a budget agreement may be reached.
This is not something that I, nor many of my colleagues, want. I ran for public office because I wanted to make a difference for the better. Pointing fingers is not what voters expect when they ask me why a budget has not yet been enacted.
That is why when I am asked to give a briefing on the current state of the budget in Harrisburg, the first thing I do is apologize for my part in not having it done by now. Still, people do deserve an honest accounting of what state government is doing.
The main sticking point in passing a budget is that Governor Wolf wants to spend several billion dollars that the state does not currently have. To get this money, he is asking for dramatic tax hikes.
At the start of October, House Majority Leader Dave Reed told Wolf that he could present any tax increase plan he wanted to the House. Reed also told Wolf that he would not interfere or attempt to sway votes against Wolf, and that Wolf was free to lobby members on both sides of the aisle to support his plan.
After six hours of debate on Wednesday, Oct. 7, Wolf’s tax package failed by a vote of 73-127 (that is 29 short of the 102 he needed). In fact, nine Democrats joined all Republicans in voting no.
This vote clearly demonstrated that voters are telling their representatives they do not want tax hikes and there is simply not support for broad based tax increases at this time. Imperfect as it may be at times, the Legislature generally reflects the will of the people as it was designed to do.
Yet, just a short time after the vote, Wolf held a press conference where he declared that no tax hikes were off the table and he would continue to hold out for a budget that contained the increased taxes he wants.
I believe it is important for everyone to understand that these increased taxes Wolf wants are not for property tax relief. Wolf’s latest budget proposal did not contain comprehensive property tax relief which already passed the House in May with a bipartisan vote.
Here is the 2015-16 budget process to this point:
On June 30, the General Assembly sent Wolf a balanced budget that increased state spending for education to its highest level ever. Wolf vetoed the entire budget including funding for schools and human services.
On Sept. 24, the General Assembly passed a stop-gap emergency funding bill that would have funded human service agencies, schools and other essential services and Governor Wolf vetoed it.
So, where does this leave us?
Right now, important human service agencies for children, veterans, domestic violence victims and others are struggling to keep their doors open, and schools will be next.
Right now, legislation is being prepared that would fund these vital human services. There will be several separate pieces of stand-alone legislation that would fund these services. Should they be placed on Wolf’s desk, he will have to make the decision to veto or sign them.
In the meanwhile, House Leader Reed has reached out to lawmakers and told them he is willing to sit down and listen to anyone who wants to see this budget crisis come to an end with an agreement everyone can live with.
I pledge I will do my part to see a budget enacted that funds the core functions of government and the education services which we are constitutionally required to provide.