MEMO: House Republicans Blow Past Own Budget Deadline With No Plan And No Urgency

TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Sinceré Harris, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party
SUBJECT: House Republicans Blow Past Own Budget Deadline with No Plan and No Urgency
DATE: August 30, 2017

Pennsylvania’s House Republican leadership has had quite the summer: While they have yet to hold a single vote to complete the state budget, their summer has been filled with deadline breaking, excuse making, internal fighting, and responsibility avoiding.

House Republicans will blow by their own deadline of finishing the budget by “the end of August” with no plan and no consensus within their own caucus. They won’t return until mid-September. It seems like none of the options the House is considering are even viable. Just yesterday, PennLive reported that, “The real bottom line this day, however, was that neither House track was seen as ready for prime-time.”

Over the weekend, the AP reported: “House GOP leaders have been quiet this month after the Republican-controlled Senate passed a bipartisan revenue plan in July that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supports. … Instead of trying to hammer out a deal with Wolf or Senate leaders, top House Republicans have hunkered down and let rank-and-file members float ideas.”

In the last few weeks, bipartisan leaders like Governor Tom Wolf and Senate President Joe Scarnati have urged the House to get their act together and finish their job before the people of Pennsylvania are forced to bear the consequences of their inaction.

Let’s remember how we got here.

On June 30, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a spending plan that largely mirrored the one Governor Tom Wolf introduced in February, almost five months earlier.

House Republican leaders hailed the plan for boosting education funding and restructuring state government. However, unlike Governor Wolf’s proposal from February, they didn’t include a way to pay for it. Governor Wolf’s plan, rejected by House Republicans, included more than $2 billion in cuts to government waste and consolidation to government agencies, a severance tax that finally makes big oil and gas companies pay their fair share, and the closing of corporate loopholes.

Since then, the people of Pennsylvania have waited and waited. For the first few weeks of July, Governor Wolf and bipartisan leaders from both houses were engaged in consensus-building negotiations.

Then, on July 18, House Republican leaders abruptly blew up bipartisan negotiations to forge their own plan of only borrowing and raiding program funds, despite dire warnings from credit agencies and fiscal watchdogs on the need for recurring revenue.

“Turzai — who has all-but declared his candidacy to challenge Wolf’s bid for a second term in next year’s election — upended weeks of negotiations on Tuesday when he abruptly pulled the House GOP from bipartisan discussions,” the AP wrote.

On July 22, House Republicans held a rare weekend session that yielded no votes.

Inquirer: “State representatives gathered in Harrisburg for a few hours Saturday and left without taking any votes, as Republican leadership punted responsibility for balancing the budget to the state Senate and the governor. It was a blow to House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), who last week took a more prominent role in negotiations as legislators try to find $2.2 billion to balance the budget.”

On July 27, the Senate passed the necessary bills to complete and pay for the budget in a bipartisan way and working with Governor Wolf.

In the month that has passed, the House Republicans have done little to complete the budget. Media reports indicate no consensus within their own caucus but plenty of blame for everyone else and even more excuses for why they’re avoiding responsibility.

On August 10, House GOP leaders said they would try to get the budget done by the “end of August” – but have they really tried? The caucus has held done little publicly since leaving town in July.

Everyday, Pennsylvania families manage their budgets. It is simple math: there has to be revenue to pay for the funding you’ve already promised to deliver. House Republican leaders should stop trying to find a magical ideological solution to pay their bills.

They should follow the Senate’s lead and show up ready to be practical and responsible for once.

Editorial boards across the state agree. Here’s what they have to say:

The Times-Tribune

“Given that the fault lies primarily with the Republican majority of the state House, it should be relatively easy to identify whose checks should not be cut. Under House Speaker Mike Turzai’s lack of leadership, the House has remained on vacation ever since it passed the $32 billion spending half of the state budget in a farcical attempt to make it appear that it had met the budget deadline.” [The Times-Tribune, 8/22/17]

Erie Times-News

“We’d like to say House GOP leaders have been working since then to resolve differences with Senate GOP leaders, but we can’t. House lawmakers decamped Harrisburg for a six-week vacation and are not due back officially until Sept. 11, though there have been reports that they might resume their jobs late this month….At this late stage, this process should not be an ideological exercise, but a practical one. The cost of inaction is too high to Pennsylvanians and the state’s good standing. Get back to work.” [Erie Times-News, 8/17/17]

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Last week, with nothing new coming from the House, state Treasurer Joe Torsella advanced the General Fund a $750 million line of credit so bills could continue to paid through Aug. 28. He did so after his warnings about a coming cash-flow crunch largely fell on deaf ears. In advancing the loan, Mr. Torsella issued a new warning — ‘we will face an even more difficult problem within weeks’ — that also has failed to rouse the House to action.” [PIttsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/11/17]