Leaders in the PA House and Senate from both parties are optimistic that the 2016-17 budget will be passed on or near the June 30th deadline this year. A major motivator is that the entire House and half of the Senate members are up for reelection this fall. Details on how to close a $2 billion deficit have not yet been finalized.
The expectation of a budget deal was echoed by House Speaker Mike Turzai, House Appropriations Committee Chairs Bill Adolph and Joseph Markosek, Senate Appropriations Chair Pat Browne and Senator Jake Corman on Tuesday. All stated that this year’s negotiations are going much better than last year’s. The legislators met with chambers of commerce from across the state at the annual Chamber Day at the Capitol. The event was organized by the PA Chamber of Business and Industry and the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals. Republican leaders and the PA Chamber continue to push for reform of the state pension system, a major cost driver in the budget. The Commonwealth’s obligation for the coming fiscal year increases $500 million to $2 billion. Speaker Turzai stated that pension reform legislation currently in the House was agreed to by Governor Wolf last year. Any of the reforms being considered would not result in immediate savings for Pennsylvania taxpayers.
To help generate the additional revenue needed to meet this obligation, the expansion of gaming and the expansion of items and services subject to sales tax are being considered. Also on Tuesday, the House passed reforms to the state liquor system that will allow grocery stores to sell wine and expand beer sales at convenience stores. The reforms, which House leaders hope will lead to the eventual complete privatization of the liquor sales in Pennsylvania, is expected to generate an additional $150 million in revenue annually. Governor Wolf did not immediately indicate if he would sign the bill. Increases in the sales tax rate and personal income tax rates are off the table in the negotiations, according to legislators. Budget Secretary Randy Albright expects that some “gimmicks” and “one-time fixes” will be utilized by the legislature to bridge any remaining budget shortfall.