HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Pennsylvania House leaders have been eerily quiet since the Senate passed a budget revenue bill last week, but rank-and-file members of the so-called Taxpayer Caucus, which is dominated by Midstaters, spoke up and spoke out for the first time Tuesday afternoon.
They held a hearing on the upper chamber’s budget bill at the Fairview Township Fire Department in York County. It’s a mostly conservative county and it was mostly conservative testimony and it was mostly critical of the plan that would slap an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale drillers and a gross receipts tax on natural gas customers and hike taxes on electricity and telephone bills.
“One hundred and eighty dollars for a family of four; that’s what the tax increase comes to on a per-family level,” Nate Benefield told of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation. He was one of 11 scheduled to testify.
“This affects almost every family in Pennsylvania except for a few Amish families,” Benefield said.
But participants weren’t all hand-picked and they weren’t all advocates or experts. Barry and Judy Fenicle, taxpaying residents of Etters, struck a chord with the lawmakers.
“How did so many Republican senators become liberal tax-and-spenders?” Barry Fenicle asked as several representatives nodded in agreement. “I can’t figure it out.”
Also puzzling to the Fenicles was this year’s budget process whereby all parties agreed to a spend number before figuring out how to pay for it.
“Stop the ass-backwards approach of developing spending amounts and then finding money to fund it,” Barry said as lawmakers applauded.
In the Fairview fire house, it was preaching to the choir. The Taxpayer Caucus is all Republican, all conservative, and all belt-tighteners.
“My constituents always look at me and say, ‘if you’re gonna tax, at the end of the day, I’m probably gonna have to figure out how to cut in my budget, so why can’t you at the state figure out how to cut in yours?’,” Rep. Kate Klunk (R-York) said.
Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon) said he will be a no vote on the Senate package as is.
“We need to put this state on the same type of budget as people across the state have had to do,” Ryan said.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) defended the plan his chamber passed last week but didn’t enthusiastically embrace it. He called it a hard but necessary vote to honestly and fairly balance the books that have been out of whack for years. Corman barely (26-24) pushed it across the finish line in the Senate.
But if the Tuesday afternoon meeting in York County is any indication, it will be a tougher sell in the House.
“Us rank-and-file members are no longer going to sit back unheard. I can assure you of that,” said Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams).
Applause exploded across the room.
The House is on a six-hour call, meaning they could be summoned to Harrisburg at any time to address the revenue package. They are not scheduled back, however, until Sept. 11.