The PA House GOP Budget Plan to Raid Special Funds Explained

The Pennsylvania House Republican plan to balance the budget in part by raiding other state funds is something of a moving target. A new amendment Representative Moul (A03286) to House Bill 593 is the legislative vehicle in which elements of the plan will move to the floor of the House as early as today. We want to take a step back and put the whole plan to use supposedly “surplus” money that is “sitting around doing nothing” into perspective. This plan rests on a fundamental confusion between bank balances and budgets, one that has played a role in the life of most married couples once or twice. And perhaps the easiest way to understand it is to consider a scenario not unfamiliar to most of us. One partner — I’m going to make him the husband in this version but it doesn’t have to be — picks up a flyer from … Continue reading

Pennsylvania’s Budget Choices This Year

As we head into what everyone hopes will be the last month of the Pennsylvania budget season, this is a good moment to take stock of where we are and what’s at stake in the decisions the governor and General Assembly will make this year. Doing so will also explain why the Pennsylvania’s Choice campaign is urging people to attend a tele-town hall on the budget at 7:15 on June 1, a budget rally at noon on June 5 in Harrisburg, and lobbying days later in the month. (More information and registration for these events can be found here.) Continue reading

The House Republican Budget Proposal

The House Republican Budget proposal for 2017-2017 is deeply problematic in six respects. First, the proposal does not close the state’s budget deficit, but leaves a gap of close to $800 million. Most of the revenue ideas presented by the House Republican Caucus to fill that gap are similar to the one-time revenues and fund transfers that have failed to fix our structural deficit in the past. The Republicans do not seem to be considering any proposal to increase recurring revenues by fixing our upside-down tax system. Second, the House Republican budget widens, rather than closes, the state’s investment deficit, especially in education, environmental protection, human services, and community and economic development: Education: It proposes $50 million less for Pre-K education and Head Start than the Governor’s budget, as well as eliminates the $8.5 million safe school initiative. Environmental Protection: It proposes $9 million less than the Governor’s budget for … Continue reading

Is this the year Pa. resolves its perennial budget crisis?

Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, December 28, 2016. Many of us who write about budget politics have a keyboard shortcut to enter “Pennsylvanian Budget Crisis” into a document. Year after year, we write in December about the upcoming crisis and again in July (or sometimes far later) about how the crisis has been temporarily averted. It is crisis time again. But perhaps this is the year we can change the script. There are new ways to do something that has eluded us in the past – solve the crisis on a long-term basis without imposing harsher new taxes on working people and the middle class. Before coming to our long-term solution to the crisis, first a word about its dimension and cause. The Independent Fiscal Office has projected that the deficit for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, will be $500 million while the deficit for the next … Continue reading

Combine spending restraint with new revenue

Originally appeared in the Erie Times, December 28, 2016 Pennsylvania has been struggling with persistent budget deficits since the start of the Great Recession in 2008. And we at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center have been recommending a “balanced approach” to resolving the deficit from the beginning, one that combines restraint in spending with new revenues. But since 2010, under Govs. Tom Corbett and Tom Wolf, the General Assembly has adopted an unbalanced approach. Spending has gone down but revenues have gone down faster. From 1994 to 2011, under both Democratic and Republican governors, the state spent 4.7 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. During the Corbett years that fell to 4.3 percent as spending on education and human services were sharply cut. And while, thanks to Wolf, the state has been able to restore some of those cuts, spending in the last two years remains at the … Continue reading

Pennsylvania needs a fairer tax system

Originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 26, 2016 Our proposal would be more equitable while also helping to close the deficit Pennsylvania faces another budget crisis. The combined deficit for this year and next is roughly $3 billion. It’s time all Pennsylvanians — and especially the members of our General Assembly — recognize that recurrent budget crises won’t stop until we fix our upside-down tax system. Federal tax rates are higher for those with higher incomes than those with lower incomes. However, combined state and local taxes, because they rely on property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes that do not have steeply graduated rates, often tax those with low incomes at roughly the same percentage as those with high incomes. Pennsylvania is worse than most states on this score. It is one of what the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy calls the “terrible 10” when it comes … Continue reading

The rich can take the hit—to fix the budget, they should pay their fair share.

Originally published at Penn-Live on December 23, 2016 Remember how Lucille Ball would work her way into some kind of predicament and then look around and wonder how she got there? That’s how our state legislators seem to look at the budget deficit we are stuck with right now. They are looking around wondering how the current Pennsylvania budget deficit, which approaches $3 billion for this year and next year together, happened. But it didn’t just happen. It was the product of a series of long-term and short-term decisions made by legislators, sometimes with the help of our governors. Let’s start, however, with what did not cause the budget deficit, because too many of our legislators, like Lucy, want to blame someone else for the mess they have made. Growth in state spending is not the cause of budget deficits. From 1994 to 2011, under both Democratic and Republican Governors, … Continue reading

How Pennsylvania Should Raise Revenues This Year

Now that a general appropriation bill has been passed by the House and Senate, the General Assembly and the Governor are turning their attention to finding the revenue to pay for it. And they are running into difficulties both reaching agreement on tax revenues that are real, recurring, and fair. But the PBPC-Senator Haywood proposal to slightly raise taxes on income from wealth meets all three criteria. Continue reading

Some things are worse than a late budget

From the Third and State blog. As the June 30th deadline looms, we have little more than rumors about what kind of Pennsylvania budget might be enacted by the General Assembly for 2016-17. But while some may find optimism in talk of getting the budget done, the rumors we are hearing about the details of the budget in the works are extremely worrisome. We know that everyone on both sides of the aisle wants a budget done more or less on time. All members of the House and half the members of the Senate face re-election in November, and none of them want a long, drawn-out budget and delays in funding schools and human services. Yet to reach agreement on a budget legislators have to find their way between their determination to get one done and the structural deficit that requires either some new revenues or difficult budget cuts. More … Continue reading