2015-07-23 / Local & State

House Lawmaker Floats ‘Middle-of-the-road’ Budget Proposal

By Marc Levy

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A Republican lawmaker from southeastern Pennsylvania with a record of taking on his party’s leaders unveiled a “middle-ofthe road” plan Thursday to break a two-week-old partisan budget stalemate and keep money flowing to the state’s social services safety net.

Rep. Eugene DiGirolamo’s proposal sought to end the standoff between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature’s Republican majorities.

The fiscal year started July 1. And without an enacted budget, the Wolf administration has lost some of its authority to spend money. That could mean that, in the next couple weeks, reimbursement checks stop going to counties and nonprofits that provide a wide range of social services.

“We’re at July 16. We’ve got to get a budget done,” DiGirolamo said at a Capitol news conference. “I think there’s groups and organizations and people out there that are really going to start to feel some pain and suffering in the next few weeks if we don’t start to sit down and talk and compromise on this budget.”

DiGirolamo, who chairs the House’s Human Services Committee, is perhaps the only lawmaker so far to publicly break ranks with his or her party in the acrimonious standoff and push for each side to take less than they are seeking.

“We’ve got to start throwing ideas out there or we’re not going to get this done,” DiGirolamo said.

Under DiGirolamo’s plan, state taxes and spending, including education aid, would rise but by less than what the governor wants and by more than what Republicans sought in the GOP’s no-new-taxes budget bill that Wolf vetoed June 30.

DiGirolamo’s plan would stand independently of the fate of the state-owned wine and liquor stores, ways to squeeze savings out of the state’s two large public employee pension systems and efforts to cut school property taxes. Republicans and Wolf have sharp disagreements over all three issues after one or both tried to tie their proposals to an overarching budget deal.

All told, DiGirolamo’s plan would increase spending by 7 percent to about $31 billion, including $600 million in new money for education. It calls for imposing a new 3.2 percent tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production and increasing the personal income tax to 3.32 percent from the 3.07 percent rate that has stood since 2004.

The tax increases are partly necessary to fix a long-term budget deficit that has prompted rating agency downgrades of Pennsylvania’s creditworthiness, DiGirolamo said. He acknowledged that the personal income tax boost would be difficult to sell to the GOP majority. House GOP leaders have already said they oppose an increase on sales or income taxes to support the state budget.

DiGirolamo’s budget plan would set aside some, but not all, of the one-time payment delays or transfers that Republicans used to balance their $30.2 billion budget. DiGirolamo’s proposal also excludes some of the tax increases – including on sales and tobacco products – that Wolf is seeking.

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