Pa. lawmaker not optimistic about budget being done by Thanksgiving

CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) – Last week, Governor Tom Wolf and party leaders announced a framework budget agreement was in place and said it should be a done deal by Thanksgiving.

State Senator John Eichelberger said he wouldn’t count on it.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen. That was a premature announcement on [Wolf’s] part,” Eichelberger said.

The Republican representing the 30th District held a town hall meeting at the North Middleton Township building Thursday.

Eichelberger said the Thanksgiving goal has been busted by inaction from Governor Wolf.

“And in a couple of cases where there’s been some agreement, the governor hasn’t followed through with his end of the deal, like property tax shifting from schools,” Eichelberger said.

Part of the current framework agreement is to reduce property taxes by using funds generated by raising the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7.25 percent.

However, Republicans wanted built-in assurances that school boards couldn’t simply raise property taxes again, erasing any relief in just a year or two.

Eichelberger says since those assurances are not being made, the Senate will vote next week to amend their current property tax relief proposal by adding language currently outlined in Senate Bill 76. The result would be a proposed increase to both the state sales tax and income tax while eliminating school property taxes altogether. Eichelberger didn’t have specifics on how much the sales tax or income tax would increase.

The senator said HB76 has wide bipartisan support and the only major opponents of the plan are teacher’s unions, which prefer the current property tax system as a way of funding school districts. He believes if the “very popular” bill passes through the Legislature, the governor will have to choose between union interests or siding with the majority of Pennsylvanians who would like to see school property taxes abolished.

“He’s gonna be hard pressed to veto. It (SB76) polls at about 80 percent. He’s gonna tell 80 percent of Pennsylvania that ‘I’m gonna hang with the teacher’s union’ instead of doing what everybody wants me to do. If it got through the Legislature,” Eichelberger said, “It’s a tough nut for him.”

Eichelberger says a vote to amend their current property tax bill to include language from SB76 is scheduled for Monday. If passed, a Senate vote on the amended bill would take place Tuesday.

As for the goal of a Thanksgiving deadline to enact a budget, Eichelberger says, “That would be impossible at this point.”

Even if a final agreement were reached by next Thursday, which included the new property tax relief package from the Senate, Eichelberger says it would take “one to two weeks” from that point to pass the entire package through the Legislature, abiding by various waiting periods required by law.

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