On time: Pa. House passes $32.7B state budget with no tax increases

Awaiting Senate action, Gov. Wolf has indicated he will sign the budget

The state House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a $32.7 billion state budget that Gov. Tom Wolf has already indicated he will sign if it clears the Senate.

The budget does not call for any broad-based tax increases, though it increases spending on education, including a 3.3 percent hike for the State System of High Education and a 3 percent increase for state-related universities. The House vote was 188 to 10.

The proposed budget would increase state spending by about $719 million over this year’s enacted $32 billion budget. Wolf had been seeking a nearly $33 billion budget in February, but said he’s pleased with the latest spending plan.

The governor had been meeting with leaders in the Republican-led General Assembly to hammer out a deal before the June 30 deadline, as the focus for lawmakers begins to shift to the general election this fall. Wolf also is up for re-election.

“I am thankful to the leaders of all four caucuses that worked with me to negotiate this responsible and bipartisan budget proposal,” the governor said in a statement following the House vote. “We have worked cooperatively over the past few months to find common ground and room for compromise.”

Wolf did not get new revenue from a severance tax on natural-gas drilling or a minimum wage hike. The budget bill also omits Wolf’s proposal to charge local governments a $25 per capita fee if they rely on the state police instead of a local police force.

But he got more money for education, his administration’s top priority. The funding includes an additional $30 million for career and technical education programs. Basic education funding would increase by $100 million to about $6.1 billion.

The budget comes at a time when Pennsylvania is experiencing relatively stable tax collections. General fund collections through May totaled $31.5 billion, which is $121.5 million ahead of budget estimates, according to the state Department of Revenue.

The Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office’s revenue forecast for June expects continued economic growth, citing December’s federal tax overhaul as one factor. The fiscal office said it believes the state will have nearly $34 billion available in revenue for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Optimism about the economy and a gubernatorial election may have paved the way for the ahead-of-schedule budget this year, unlike past years, which were marked by partisan stalemates and late budgets.

Jason Scott
Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com.

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