HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Appropriations hearings are an annual tradition in the Pennsylvania House and Senate and they concluded Thursday.
But it is quite untraditional for lawmakers and agency heads to discuss the next fiscal year’s spending needs without having completed the current fiscal year’s spending plan.
“It is unprecedented. We are in uncharted territory,” said Representative Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks).
The final hearing in the House was with Governor Wolf’s Budget Secretary, Randy Albright, and it dragged on for nearly five hours.
Albright said repeatedly that he and Wolf continue to cling to the near-deal they nearly closed near Christmas.
“We came so incredibly close to a compromise budget agreement before the holidays,” Albright said. “That didn’t get done.”
But Wolf’s 2016-17 budget pre-supposes that the 2015-16 near-deal eventually gets done and then builds upon it for the next fiscal year.
Not happening, according to House Republicans.
“It’s dead,” said Representative Seth Grove (R-York) of that compromise budget plan that needed, but never got, one final vote in the House on December 23. “It’s non-existent. It is now just a political talking point of the administration to make themselves feel better.”
During the hearing, Republicans blamed Wolf for creating a constitutional crisis across the commonwealth. They say the budget they ultimately passed was only $400 million short of what Wolf wanted but the governor chose to blue-line $6 billion in funding for schools and prisons and agriculture. Prisons are being funded over the blue line, some say unconstitutionally. Schools and farmers fear devastating effects of budget cuts on the horizon.
“When we signed that budget the intention was that spending plan would be in place for a matter of weeks, not months,” Albright said, adding the hope was lawmakers and the governor would have settled their differences and closed a budget early in the New Year.
“The administration is dug in on the blue line,” said Representative Bill Adolph (R-Delaware), who chaired his final Appropriations Committee budget hearing because he’s retiring at the end of the year. “The administration feels the more the pressure mounts, they will get closer to what they want, which is a gigantic tax increase.”
Ah yes, taxes.
The elephant in the room overshadowing budget negotiations. The party whose symbol is the elephant is resisting.
“Are we gonna raise taxes to such an extent that’s well over and beyond what the state needs and what the people of Pennsylvania are willing to pay for?” asks Quinn.
But Democrats argue that years of reckless Republican-led budgets created a $2 billion structural deficit. They say the adults in the room will concede higher taxes are necessary.
“There’s gonna have to be a combination of new revenue and less spending,” said Representative Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny).”It’s not gonna be solved by just cuts alone. It’s gonna have to be a combination of both.”
So the talking points haven’t changed in the past year.
The ball has barely been advanced down the field.
The budget is barely budging.