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Pennsylvania headed for another budget battle

By   /   February 9, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Gov. Tom Wolf delivered a blistering budget address Tuesday in Harrisburg in which he offered a stark warning about the consequences facing the commonwealth if it does not adopt his $33 billion spending plan for 2016-17.

governor.pa.gov

SPENDING SPREE: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf plans to increase spending as a way of fighting a $2 billion budget deficit.

Wolf said Pennsylvania’s finances are a “ticking time bomb” and the failure to pass a “responsible” spending plan could plunge the commonwealth into a financial crisis.

“If you won’t face up to the reality of the situation we’re in,” Wolf said in his sharpest words that were aimed at House Republicans, “if you ignore that time bomb ticking … if you won’t take seriously your responsibility to the people of Pennsylvania — then find another job.”

Some portions of Wolf’s speech were met with boos from the Republican-controlled House, highlighting the political gridlock that continues to delay the passage of last year’s budget by more than seven months. The 2015-16 budget was due last summer and it has inched forward to the point where that spending plan is about 90 percent finished, according to GOP lawmakers.

“The problem is not that Republicans in the General Assembly and I don’t see eye-to-eye,” Wolf said. “No, this crisis is not about politics at all. This is about math.”

Pennsylvania faces a $2 billion budget deficit, and Wolf said the only way to dig out from that hole is to increase spending on things like public education. Those investments would necessitate almost $3 billion in tax hikes.

“Pennsylvanians need to prepare for these consequences,” Wolf said. “And I do not say this with any joy whatsoever. But someone in Harrisburg has to start telling the people of Pennsylvania the truth about the mess we’re in.”

A day before addressing the House, Wolf penned an open letter to Pennsylvanians that foreshadowed steep tax increases.

Wolf’s $32.7 billion budget is more than 11 percent bigger than the budget still being worked out from last year, according to Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai. The increase in spending would be the largest jump in 25 years and may represent a tax burden of more than $850 for a family of four.

“The governor didn’t even offer a vision,” Turzai said. “He didn’t even put forth the details with respect to his budget. There was no vision. Unfortunately, there was just fear mongering.”

PA House Republicans

UP, UP AND AWAY: Proposed spending increased may saddle Pennsylvania families with an even bigger tax bill, according to House Republicans.

Among the details of a doomsday financial situation facing Pennsylvania if a “responsible” budget is not passed, Wolf said the state would be forced to lay off more than 23,000 teachers, cut education and social programs and slash state services for the disabled, elderly and victims of domestic violence.

“I can accept that we disagree about the importance of education,” Wolf said. “I can accept that we disagree about the proper role of government in securing a more prosperous future for our Commonwealth. And I can accept that I won’t get my way on everything.

“But I can’t accept — Pennsylvania can’t afford — another irresponsible budget that ignores the fact of this fiscal crisis and pretends our problems don’t exist.”

House Republicans immediately chopped away at Wolf’s budget proposal, especially tax increases that would be a hard sell to their constituents, signaling what could be another protracted fiscal battle. Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said there is no chance Wolf’s budget is based in reality.

“Hard working people want to keep more of their money,” Turzai said. “With all due respect, I think the governor is out of touch.”

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Evan was formerly a Pennsylvania-based education reporter for Watchdog.org.