HARRISBURG, Pa. — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf warned Tuesday that Pennsylvanians will “get hurt” if state lawmakers do not pass a revenue package to balance a nearly $32 billion budget bill they approved more than two months ago.
Wolf also said his decision day is Sept. 15, when he will have to start freezing some spending to prevent the state’s main bank account from going below zero.
“I’ve been trying to make ends meet, but the string of things I can do really runs out next Friday,” Wolf told interviewers during a regularly scheduled appearance on KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh. “So I don’t know why this brinksmanship seems to be something that’s attractive to some of the members of the House Republican leadership, but it’s certainly not helping Pennsylvania.”
Freezing spending could affect roads, schools, emergency response systems and volunteer fire companies, Wolf warned.
“If the money isn’t there to pay for those things, then Pennsylvanians are going to get hurt,” Wolf said.
Wolf’s comments came as a group of rank-and-file House Republicans presented a plan in a Capitol news conference that they said would fill a $2.2 billion projected deficit, largely by diverting cash from off-budget programs. House GOP leaders did not attend, although a spokesman said they support the plan.
No votes were scheduled this week, and the Republican-controlled House is scheduled to return to session in Harrisburg on Monday for the first time since July 22.
The plan leans heavily on siphoning money from a public transportation system fund and programs aimed at environmental cleanups and improvements. While House Republican supporters insisted the money could be diverted from surpluses without affecting the programs, the Wolf administration swiftly contradicted that.
Also getting hit would be business-friendly programs that provide financial incentives and aid to emergency response systems and volunteer firefighter companies.
“Everybody’s ox gets gored here,” said Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams. “We played no favorites.”
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, questioned the legality of “raiding” accounts that, he said, are restricted by law. The Wolf administration also questioned the plan’s reliance on $400 million in unused program cash leftover from last year, while the House GOP plan raised the prospect that it would include nearly $200 million in cuts to spending already approved, some of it for hospitals, public health programs and job training.
It would avoid raising taxes — other than extending Pennsylvania’s 6 percent sales tax to third-party sales in online marketplaces — or borrowing to balance the budget, key elements of a bipartisan revenue package that the Republican-controlled Senate approved in late July.
Wolf supports the Senate’s revenue package, which also relies on a new tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production and prospective licensing fees by authorizing another expansion of casino gambling across Pennsylvania, the nation’s No. 2 commercial casino state.
The stalemate with Republican lawmakers is the second in Wolf’s three years in office. The first budget fight lasted nine months, ending in spring 2016, and another protracted stalemate seems likely to draw a downgrade to Pennsylvania’s battered credit rating, increasing the state government’s borrowing costs.
The spending plan amounts to a 3 percent increase, including the nearly $32 billion budget bill that lawmakers approved June 30 and another $600 million in annual aid to five universities — Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln universities and the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school — that’s held up in the stalemate.
Wolf last week authorized what he called “a very short-term” loan from the state’s Motor License Fund — which supports transportation projects and safety — to ensure he could make payments on time for two more weeks.
This story has been corrected to show the party affiliation of House Minority Leader Frank Dermody is Democratic, not Republican.