State Budget Process Grinds… Slowly… Forward
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
HARRISBURG – Work on the state budget is moving at its usual snail’s pace to meet the June 30 deadline. Like a college student who procrastinates writing that term paper until the night before it’s due, the General Assembly won’t get serious about moving budget bills until the middle of June.
But this year is a bit different than previous state budgets. First, without significant cuts or new taxes, the budget has a $2 billion hole. How to fill that hole is the primary budget problem facing legislators. But legislators hate cutting programs and hate raising taxes.
Second, Governor Wolf has proposed a complex set of new taxes and property tax reform that will take significant new legislation to implement. Rather than just a term paper, this year’s budget is more like a master’s thesis. Not something that you can knock out in a Red Bull fueled all-nighter.
Third, several other knotty issues such as state and school pension reform and state liquor monopoly reform are on the agenda of the General Assembly. The Republican-controlled General Assembly was unable to solve these two issues in four years with a Republican in the governor’s mansion. Do they really think they can solve these issues now?
It’s likely that the General Assembly will send the Governor a budget minutes before midnight on June 30 to put the ball in his court. How close that budget comes to meeting the Governor’s priorities will determine whether he signs it, line-item vetoes portions of it or vetoes the whole thing and sends it back to the General Assembly for a do-over.
Governor Wolf himself does not believe the budget will be done on time. In an April interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer he said: "I'm planning on spending the summer here," adding, "And the fall, and the winter."
When the state does not pass a budget by the constitutionally-mandated June 30 deadline, state spending must stop. The first to feel this will be state employees as their biweekly paychecks stop. State contractors will also feel the pinch, as their invoices go unpaid until a budget is enacted.
Pressure from these constituencies will build over the summer months until either the governor or the General Assembly blinks and a deal gets cut.
That’s the way I see it happening this year. Budget in August.