Budget negotiations took on a new dimension last week after the House approved a counter revenue proposal that would balance the 2017-18 spending plan through a series of special fund transfers, securitization of the Tobacco Settlement Fund and yet-to be enacted gaming and liquor expansions.
The proposal does not include any tax increases and limits borrowing. The specifics of the plan call for: a $20 million transfer from legislative reserve accounts; $630 million in Special Fund transfers; $400 million in multi-year agency lapsed funds; a $200 million transfer from the nonprofit Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association; a $15 million transfer from the Commonwealth Financing Authority’s New Venture Account; and borrowing $100 million from the Underground Storage Tank Indemnity Fund. The proposal would also sell a portion of the annual payments from the Tobacco Settlement Fund over a 10 year period – which is expected to bring in $1 billion. Finally, the plan banks on revenues from yet-to be enacted gaming expansion – which could include allowing for “mini casinos” and limited video gaming terminals – as well as additional reforms to the state’s alcohol laws.
The Wolf administration was quick to state its opposition to the plan late Wednesday night. In a written statement to Capitolwire, Gov. Wolf’s spokesman J.J. Abbott said: “Gov. Wolf and bipartisan members of the House and Senate understand that recurring revenue is necessary to solve the structural deficit and avoid a credit downgrade. The House Republican proposal does neither. After leaving bipartisan negotiations in July, House Republicans have demanded to go it alone. Hopefully, now, they can get serious about funding the spending they passed two months ago, fixing the structural deficit and avoiding further consequences.”
Meanwhile House Republican leaders viewed the vote as the next step in the negotiation process. Prior to the House vote, Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We’re going to move forward with this with the expectation we get to 102 votes and then we’ll enter into the next round of negotiations and hopefully finish that in a very timely fashion.”
The House approved the proposal by a vote of 103-91. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.