On Monday, Oct. 30, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf signed off on several pieces of legislature needed to balance Pennsylvania’s proposed $32 billion budget that was approved on July 1 without a plan to pay for it.
The Republican-controlled legislature has proposed legalizing and expanding online and casino gambling as well as borrowing $1.5 billion against the proceeds of the state’s tobacco companies which Wolf signed despite proposing to borrow $1.25 billion and reimbursing those funds through the revenue from the state’s Liquor Control Board.
The tobacco-funded loan plan is subject to approval by the Commonwealth Financing Authority.
Two bills are still in limbo, one of which mandates Wolf to withdraw $300 million out of dedicated funds ranging from transportation to environmental cleanup. Wolf indicated that he may veto the other bill, the education code, for a variety of reasons that he has not stated in detail.
The effort to produce a plan to finance Pennsylvania’s budget has been long overdue and has resulted in a credit downgrade. Wolf stated at a monthly press-club luncheon in Harrisburg on Monday, Oct. 30 that he is “sick and tired of special-interest politicians, self-interest, political games trumping the public interest here in Harrisburg,” according to Philly.com.
Tensions have been rising in the commonwealth as a result of this dilemma as shown through the governor’s comments.
Upon reaching out to Democratic State Representative Carolyn Comitta for comment, she stated that, “the lack of fiscal responsibility demonstrated by the House Republican leadership, especially their choice of balancing the budget by borrowing and adding little recurring revenue, has led to a credit downgrading of PA by Standard & Poors. This downgrade raises the interest rate and makes it more expensive for our state to borrow money–adding millions of dollars in costs to PA taxpayers.”
When asked about the specifics of the plan, she said, “This is not the budget I or my constituents wanted. There is little recurring revenue, lots of borrowing and no severance tax. There are some good things included in this budget including funding for valuable pre-K programs and much needed additional funding for services for people with disabilities.”
Republican State Representative Duane Milne explained this situation “reflects the difficult, political and monetary times we are in.” He then went on, “For this year, all things considered, it’s generally about as fair and reasonable of a budget as one can expect. It’s not perfect, but in my 12 years I’ve never found a perfect bill. It funds the areas that need funding without major tax increases and without reckless borrowing.”
The 2018 elections have been looming over Wolf and other state legislators, many of whom are up for re-election in the coming year.
Alexander Shakhazizian is a fourth-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at AS823512@wcupa.edu.