Nearly five weeks after adopting a $32 billion budget for this fiscal year, state lawmakers are still arguing over how to fund it—precisely, how to fill a $2 billion shortfall in revenues.
“It’s time to get the job done,” said Gov. Tom Wolf.
The governor said he supports a revenue package barely approved by the state Senate, 26-24, last Thursday.
“It's a responsible step in the right direction,” Wolf said. “It provides the revenues to pay for the things the members of the Senate and the House overwhelmingly said they wanted to spend.”
The Senate-passed plan includes borrowing $1.3 billion against the commonwealth’s annual share of the multistate, multiyear settlement with tobacco companies. The revenue package also counts on $571 million in new or increased taxes, including hikes in taxes on phone service, electricity consumption and a reinstatement of a levy on gas utility bills.
“No one wanted to be voting for tax increases,” said Senate Republican leader Jake Corman. “Unfortunately we’re basically out of options.”
But Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), who voted against the $32 billion budget, said spending should have been cut instead of raising taxes.
“The Senate’s latest taxpayer-fleecing scheme should be immediately declared dead on arrival by the House Republican majority,” Metcalfe said in a statement.
The revenue package also includes, for the first time, a severance tax on Marcellus shale gas drillers. Similar proposals over the last decade generated no traction.
“I think over the last number of years, the people who opposed it became convinced that this was not something that was punitive,” Wolf said. “This is something that would help all Pennsylvanians; If you go to some place and say you know you don't have gas here. But your school's going to be better because Pennsylvania has this natural resource beneath its feet that is a selling point.”
The current impact fee on drillers generates about $170 million annually, most of which goes to the communities and counties where the drilling occurs. The proposed severance tax is expected to bring in an addition $100 million.
While House Republican caucus spokesman Steve Miskin said the House would not “rubber stamp” the Senate plan, no debate let alone a vote has been scheduled.
“I think the different attempts that they (House Republicans) went through to find some alternative to what I proposed back in February, what the Senate has proposed this time around and the inability of the House Republicans to come up with any alternative to either of those things is just a sign of just how difficult this is. But I think it's also a sign of how sensible the Senate's plan and proposal is,” Wolf said.