HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – All was quiet around the Capitol Christmas tree in the normally bustling Rotunda Monday.
Too quiet for some, given a budget that’s still undone.
“I don’t care if they have to work around the clock, it’s time to get serious,” said activist Gene Stilp. “Why aren’t they in session today getting this done? They should be here right now. There’s no reason to pay these people, no reason to give them per diems, no reason to give them a salary, because they’re not getting the job done.”
It could be argued the budget is partially done. Legislative Republicans passed a spending plan just before Christmas and left town. Governor Wolf allowed emergency funding to flow to schools and social services. He approved money for the legislature and judges, but blue-lined much of the rest and blasted Republicans for “cutting” education funding, which is Wolf’s top priority.
As he was calling the GOP budget, “garbage,” Wolf said it cut education by $95 million.
“I’m not sure what math they learn in the governor’s office,” said House GOP Spokesman Steve Miskin, who handed out copies of the budget bill and its line items showing that it would increase education funding by $410 million.
“It’s a four-percent increase to more than $11 billion ($11.03) from 10 billion dollars ($10.6). What are they talking about?”
But there’s no such thing as simple math at the Capitol during an 188-day budget impasse and clearly things aren’t adding up.
“Our Republican friends are math challenged,” countered John Hanger, Wolf’s policy director.
The Wolf administration insists that the GOP budget really had $210 million more for classrooms (the rest of the increase would go toward pensions) while zeroing out $305 million earmarked for school construction.
“You do the math, $210 minus $305 leaves a $95 million cut,” Hanger said. “This legislature had worked with Governor Corbett and has gotten used to sloppy math and gotten used to putting in place budgets full of smoke and mirrors.”
The elephant in the budget room is increased taxes. House Republicans are proudly and steadfastly refusing to go along with any hikes to sales or income taxes. Hanger says the budget won’t truly balance without “new revenues,” which is Capitol-speak for new taxes.
So, elephants have popped up on television airwaves. A commercial shows two elephants butting heads while the narrator says, “Republicans in Harrisburg are fighting each other.”
America Works USA, an issue-advocacy group affiliated with the Democratic Governor’s Association, has spent $500,000 statewide to run the ads for the first week of January and may buy more. But House Republicans say Governor Wolf approved them and it’s not helping.
“Even now with the commercials he’s running, showing the elephants fighting, and the rhetoric that we’re stupid and we don’t care, it’s creating a very bad environment to negotiate and come together on this thing,” Representative Mike Regan (R-York) said.
So, it’s fair to say that the Christmas spirit is gone from the Capitol before the Christmas tree has been removed.
The governor is scheduled to give his next budget address Feb. 9.