HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Nearly two dozen, mostly Midstate, House Republicans crowded a stage to unveil their so-called “taxpayer budget” and issue a declaration of its fiscal philosophy.
“Until and unless every source of revenue is exhausted, we should not and are not asking more of our taxpayers,” Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) said.
Moul and his colleagues have pored over every pot of state money for weeks. They say they’ve found $2.4 billion in 41 different funds that they’ll seize to finish both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 budgets. They insist they can balance the books without raising taxes or borrowing.
It’s money that would’ve otherwise gone to transportation funds, mass transit funds, environmental funds, historical preservation funds, hazardous site cleanup funds, and many others. But, they promise, their sticky fingers won’t leave a mark.
“The Taxpayer’s Budget should not cost one job, compromise one service, or close one agency,” Moul said.
Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Dauphin/Schuylkill) agrees. “This effort has uncovered what many people believe, that we have bloated accounts at the state. And let’s get very aggressive. Right now, I say desperate times call for desperate measures. These accounts have been accessed before, not to this extent maybe, but we’re saving them for a rainy day. It’s raining right now in Pennsylvania state government. It’s time to reel in some of this surplus.”
But there are skeptics, lots of them, both inside and outside the building. They say that House Republican budget magic is nothing more than a fiscal illusion.
Gov. Tom Wolf issued a lengthy and critical statement to the maneuver. It said in part, “This is not complicated. These funds support essential commonwealth programs. If the money is not there, every Pennsylvanian will be negatively impacted. ”
“There are concerns with the legitimacy of the options they provided,” said Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. Many in her chamber question the House Republicans’ math and the legality of their proposed money grab.
“While these funds may be unspent, that doesn’t mean they’re not committed to places and that people aren’t waiting for or relying on these funds,” Kocher said.
“I’m not gonna say there’s not gonna be a legal challenge,” admitted Rep. Will Tallman (R-Adams/Cumberland).
Tallman’s group is expecting pushback and they’re getting it. Numerous advocacy groups have released statements of condemnation. Tallman knows when people’s money gets threatened, “they complain. “But remember, these are taxpayer dollars. It’s the taxpayers. They don’t want us getting into their wallets all the time year after year.”
House Republicans will put their plan up for a vote next week and hope to send it to the Senate. It faces an uncertain future there and, of course, the governor has already stated his displeasure.