Gov. Tom Wolf to Lawmakers on Budget: “The Time for Games Is Over”

GOP lawmakers assailed Wolf after he used his budget address today to chastise them for not passing last year's budget yet.

Gov. Tom Wolf talked doom and gloom at today’s annual budget address.

“Pennsylvania now faces a $2 billion budget deficit,” Wolf told a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate today in Harrisburg. “This deficit isn’t just a cloud hanging over Pennsylvania’s long-term future. It is a time bomb, ticking away, right now, even as I speak. If it explodes – if the people in this chamber allow it to explode – then Pennsylvania will experience a fiscal catastrophe the likes of which we have never seen.”

Budget problems have been exacerbated this year because the state is currently operating on a partial budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year. A full budget is more than 200 days late. Wolf focused more on chiding the legislature than on his plans for the new budget, though he did release a 900-page budget at the same time as his speech.

“The time for games is over,” Wolf said. “And now it’s time to finish the job we should have finished last year. … I can’t accept – Pennsylvania can’t afford – another irresponsible budget that ignores the fact of this fiscal crisis and pretends our problems don’t exist.”

Republican legislative leaders attacked Wolf’s address in a series of speeches and press availabilities afterward.

  • “Unfortunately, the governor didn’t offer a vision,” said, Rep. Mike Turzai, Speaker of the House. “He didn’t even put forth the details with respect to his budget… there was just fear-mongering.” Turzai was flanked by a crowd of people in suits with stickers reading “Standing up for taxpayers.”
  • Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati called his tone “totally inappropriate in a budget address” and added he was “tired of this governor putting taxpayers against educators.”
  • “This was my 18th budget address,” said Sen. Jake Corman, the majority leader. “This was without question the most absurd, politically motivated speech. … It was an outrageous speech today. I thought we were trying to get things done.”

For his part, Rep. Joseph Markosek (D-Westmoreland) said on PCN he thought the address was “non-political.” Wolf harangued lawmakers for their failure to pass a full 2015-16 budget rather than argue ideological points. Republicans complained of politics, but in their remarks seemed mainly upset with Wolf’s lack of detail and having been yelled at in a fancy room at the State House.

Wolf did share some plans in his budget address. He wants to create a plan that ensures education from pre-kindergarten to college. He wants new private-public partnerships. He wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.15 an hour, legalize medical marijuana and “save tax dollars” by reforming criminal justice. Then he went gloomy again: “My fellow Pennsylvanians: Our Commonwealth is in crisis. A crisis that threatens our future.” Wolf also said that if the legislature does not act, school districts statewide, “already threadbare after years of underfunding at the state level, will take a ruinous hit.” He called a Republican budget plan “$1.5 billion worth of optical illusions.”

Wolf’s budget is similar to last year, calling for $2.7 billion in new taxes primarily by changing sales and personal income taxes, as well as a levy on fracking. Sales taxes would be added to things like basic cable, movie theater tickets and digital downloads. Hundreds of millions more would go to public schools.

Jim Kenney, who pitched universal pre-K during the campaign and in his inaugural address, jumped on Wolf’s mention of education. “Today, Governor Wolf clearly illustrated the urgency of increasing education funding,” Kenney said in a statement. “Our students and teachers deserve basic resources like nurses and up-to-date text books. Working parents should be able to afford safe, quality pre-K for their 3- and 4-year-olds.

“Without those opportunities, we’re risking not only our children’s futures but the stability of our middle class. I urge our legislators from both sides of the aisle to agree on a budget that provides desperately needed funding for pre-K and K-12.”

Republican leaders say they are not close to passing last year’s full budget, let alone discussing this year’s. Corman, the Senate majority leader, blamed Wolf for the budget impasse and slammed today’s speech as inappropriate.

“We are further away than we were in June of last year,” Corman said. “And my guess is that’s what the governor wants.… Gov. Rendell, who was as much of a political animal as anybody, never would have given a speech like that. For a guy who says he’s from the outside, everything [Wolf does] is politically motivated.”

Read Gov. Wolf’s budget address here, and the full, 976-page budget below.

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2016-17 Governor’s Executive Budget by Governor Tom Wolf