Budget Process Nearing End As Time Runs Short

Kristi Pronovost The Merit Shop Advocacy Blog, The Merit Shop Spokesman Blog

By Brent Sailhamer, Director of Government Affairs, ABC Keystone

With just days to go until the Constitutional deadline of June 30th, lawmakers in Harrisburg appear to have a spending plan for the 2019-2020 fiscal year all wrapped up. The plan calls for just short of $34 billion in spending for the year, with a nearly $200 million deposit into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a restricted account designed to alleviate financially lean years. The fund had been decimated by former Gov. Ed Rendell, so the budget plan marks the first time in a decade that a significant deposit has been made.

The budget also calls for no new broad-based tax increases, no severance tax on natural gas, and also foregoes a minimum wage increase, which Democrats had lobbied hard for in both the House and Senate. Because state revenues have been steadily higher than projected, the budget plan also increases public education spending to the highest level in history. On Tuesday, the House passed the plan by a 140-62 vote.

While the budget itself was relatively free from contention, lawmakers were at odds over legislation to eliminate a cash assistance plan for financially distressed Pennsylvanians. The program allows for cash subsidies for individuals who are so destitute that they do not qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), capping out at roughly $200 a month. Republicans pushed forward a bill to eliminate the plan and, while contentious in the House, tempers boiled over in the Senate as Republicans called for an immediate vote on the bill without considering Democrat amendments. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who is charged with presiding over the Senate, ignored Republican calls for an immediate vote and allowed debate by Senate Democrats until President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati ascended the rostrum and took the gavel. The move caused an explosion of emotion in the chamber and the Senate briefly recessed to cool down. Lawmakers briefly returned with Republicans forcing a 26-24 vote to pass the bill and send it to the Governor.

June 27, 2019