John Baer: We could have a state budget (gasp) on time!
STOP ME IF you've heard this one. A Democratic governor walks into a budget meeting asking for big increases in education (despite the fact that his state has no money) because education is key to sustained economic progress and, if needed, we should raise taxes to fund it.
STOP ME IF you've heard this one.
A Democratic governor walks into a budget meeting asking for big increases in education (despite the fact that his state has no money) because education is key to sustained economic progress and, if needed, we should raise taxes to fund it.
Fiscally responsible Republican senators say he can't have what he wants because his state has no money and raising taxes stymies economic progress.
The scenario, played out like Groundhog Day at this time of year in Harrisburg, is back in the news.
With two weeks remaining in the fiscal year, it again will determine whether Ed Rendell breaks his seven-year streak of late state budgets or whether he and lawmakers actually get one done on time.
My money's on the streak. When you're hot, you let it ride.
The Guv and the Legislature mix like oil and water (Are you picturing the Gulf of Mexico?) so it's likely that the June 30 deadline gets missed again.
But because it's an election year for the House and half the Senate, and since the Legislature took so much guff last year for its 101-days-late budget, it's unlikely that the deadline is missed by much.
In fact - I hope you're sitting down - some leaders say it could get done on time.
What? In Pennsylvania?
"It could get done on time," says House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans. "Legislatively, it could get done." (The operative word here is "legislatively.")
It could get done because the Democratic-controlled House is scheduled to vote this week on a bill with new taxes on cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco and the extraction of natural gas, part of a package worth about $300 million.
By borrowing from other funds and making adjustments in other payments, the goal is balancing what's expected to be a $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion deficit after June revenue-collection numbers are in.
Even though this same-old approach is as creative as wearing a smiley-face button when happy, it could get done because Republicans, who control the Senate, aren't calling it dead-on-arrival. In fact, leaders from both chambers are to meet on the plan on Wednesday.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, when asked if he shares Democratic on-time optimism, says, "Up to a point, yes." His caveat is you-know-who: "It only takes one," Corman says. And you-know-who is why Evans says that "legislatively" it could get done.
Plus, Gov. You-Know-Who already said he's willing to go another 100 days. No harm to him; he can't seek re-election.
So there's that, and the fact that House Democrats are as organized as oil spills and the fact that politics can always pollute agreements. But there is far less partisan prattling now than in past budget battles, which many say helps the get-'er-done effort.
About the only thing at this stage that Corman calls "problematic" is taxing cigars - reportedly just a $4 million difference, not a budget-stopper.
Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn't tax smokeless. Pennsylvania and Florida are the only states not taxing cigars. Not sure what the argument is in Florida (Lots of old guys on fixed incomes like stogies?) but the argument here is harm to tobacco farms and jobs.
The state's crop of tobacco for smoking is third nationally, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. And Holt's Cigar Co. in Philly and Cigars International in the Lehigh Valley are among the nation's largest distributors.
So, in an atmosphere leaning toward get-'er-done more than at any time during Rendell's tenure, there's a push to find a number between Ed's $29 billion request with new taxes and the GOP's $27.5 billion with no new taxes.
The result will be some new taxes, some increase for education and some number the GOP can tolerate.
But, hey, maybe you've heard this one before.
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