Easy Out – State Budget Update

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

By Brent Sailhamer, Director of Government Affairs, ABC Keystone

In almost every instance, calls for additional spending by Democrats have been met with protracted battles by legislative Republicans, guarding the coffers and protecting taxpayers. For the most part, these calls have continued even in lean years, when incoming revenues are down and expenses continue to rise. So when Governor Tom Wolf released his 2019-2020 budget proposal in February, which included nearly $1.5 billion in additional spending over last year’s budget, it was almost a sure sign of a long fight deep into June and possibly July.

This year, however, may be a different story. With gaming revenues rocketing thanks to expanded gaming opportunities and general revenues also exceeding estimates thanks to a consistently booming economy, revenues are plentiful. With additional revenues in deposit and less than 30 days until the state’s budget is due, legislators are now looking to cut a deal early and potentially leave town well before the Constitutional deadline.

As pragmatic leaders from both sides of the aisle look to temper the $34.1 billion in spending proposed by the Governor and determine a more do-able figure, rank-and-file members are headed in a different direction. Democrats have expansive designs for the additional revenues, from increased spending on basic education funding to renewing lapsed incentive programs and increased salaries for public employees. Hardline conservatives, on the other hand, are signaling interest in a broad-based tax cut, providing overall relief to taxpayers. While neither scenario is likely in the first healthy year in some time, these plans could create a blueprint for next year’s budget negotiations if revenues stay consistent. Either way, with Trump on the ballot again next year, legislators are going to be highly sensitive about self-preservation.

June 4, 2019