Now It’s House Republicans Blocking a Pa. Budget Deal

It's time for everybody to accept a partial victory and go home.
Pa. House Majority Leader Dave Reed discusses the state budget situation in October.

Pa. House Majority Leader Dave Reed discusses the state budget situation in October.

Maybe I was wrong.

As the months dragged on without a state budget, I had increasingly come to believe that Gov. Tom Wolf was being too stubborn. After all, there were reports that Republicans had offered a substantial increase in ed funding as part of a budget deal; given that schools were foundering without a state budget to send money their way, I believed the governor should take that half a loaf, declare victory, and move on to the next battle. The fact that he hadn’t done so, I suggested, raised questions about his ability to govern. (He disagreed, by the way.)

In the last couple of weeks, though, Wolf has done exactly what I’d hoped he’d do: He took the half-a-loaf — a big increase in ed funding — and prepared to end the budget battle. He didn’t get the tax he wanted on the Marcellus Shale. In fact, the budget agreement pays for the increase in spending by expanding sales taxes, which fall most heavily on the poor. But that’s politics in a divided state: To get a little you have to give a little.

One problem, though: A budget framework was announced before Thanksgiving. That fell apart, and a new, similar deal was announced Friday. It now appears to be falling apart. What’s up with that?

It’s House Republicans, it turns out, who can’t get their (ahem) house in order.

Even though House Majority Leader Dave Reed has agreed twice in recent weeks on a $30.8 billion budget, it seems his caucus won’t go along — his “followers” instead, are now seeking a $30.3 billion budget that skips the sales tax expansion and eliminates most of the ed spending hike.

“There’s a number of members who question the need for all the new taxes,” Steve Miskin, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said today.

We’re not quite back at square one: The governor and Senate are proceeding with efforts to pass the budget framework, hoping to turn the heat up on the House. But for now, though, the process appears, once again, to be at an impasse.

Three thoughts about that:

It’s all on the House GOP now. If Gov. Wolf ever bore responsibility for dragging out the process — and he’s had his obstinate moments to be sure — it’s no longer his fault. House Republicans are the main obstacle to concluding the budget at this point. They’re have to bear the blame.

It’s unclear that a divided government could produce a budget much different than the one it already has. As long ago as last November, it was pretty easy to predict the contours of what an agreement between a Democratic governor and a Republican-led legislature would and should look like: He’d get most of his spending increase for education, but probably little or nothing on the Marcellus Shale tax. In return Republicans would get movement on one or both of the following: Liquor privatization and state employee pensions. They got a little of both!

This is classical political horse-trading. Nobody won everything. Nobody lost everything. It’s not richly satisfying, but government rarely is. Any House Republican who thinks he or she can get a better deal at this point seems a little misguided.

Which means it’s time to finish this, already. The unsolicited advice I gave the governor a few months is now relevant to the House GOP. You have it in your power to finish this ugly, drawn-out process within the next few days. You will not get everything you want, but you will get some of what you wanted. It’s not going to get appreciably better. Meanwhile, schools and social service agencies suffer because of withheld funding.

It’s time to take action. House Republicans: It’s your move.

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