Wheatley helps unveil House Democratic budget alternative

Pittsburgh lawmaker said plan is do-able by Friday, employs real revenue and requires less borrowing

HARRISBURG, Sept. 13 – State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny is urging prompt action on a plan offered by several House Democrats before state coffers run dry Friday, risking another costly credit downgrade for Pennsylvania by as early as next week.

“It’s critical and responsible for us to do something on the budget this week,” said Wheatley, Democratic chairman of the House Finance Committee, at a Capitol news conference on Tuesday. “We have a responsible plan that borrows less, relies on real revenues and can be done before Friday.”

Almost two dozen House Democrats joined Wheatley to explain that their budget plan uses real numbers to plug the overdue budget’s $2.2 billion revenue chasm, not fiscal fairytales meant to deceive and delude.

The House Democrats said the fiscal package would build upon and tweak the Senate budget plan by:

  • Bolstering the Senate-approved severance tax proposal to raise $128.5 million in the first year and $177.2 million in the second;

  • Reduce $1.3 billion;

  • Eliminate the Senate’s 5.7 percentincrease in the Gross Receipts Tax on natural gas utility bills;

  • Eliminate the sales and use tax exemption for online purchases; and

  • Increase the state’s Personal Income Tax by less than 5 percent to 3.22 percent, up from 3.07 percent.

Wheatley laments that even as the state’s main checkbook, the General Fund, is expected to be empty on Friday, the House Republican budget being floated this week is rife with ridiculousness, saying its provisions incorporate the same money twice, counts money that really doesn’t exist, and plugs in funding that’s to be used for other things.

“It’s a roadmap for ensuring another credit downgrade, and in many cases, the cuts would translate to local tax increases,” Wheatley said. “We [Democrats] are willing to do what is necessary to move Pennsylvania forward.”

The House adjourned Tuesday without voting on the House GOP budget alternative, which House Democrats said would:

  • Cut $507.5 million from transportation programs, including the Public Transportation Fund, the Multi-modal Transportation Fund and the PA Infrastructure bank. The cuts to public transportation funding

  • Slash $379 millionfrom environmental and agricultural programs, specifically targeting the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund and the Industrial Sites Cleanup Fund;

  • Incorporate the GOP-proposed cut to the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, and increase the raid on the Recycling Fund from $75 million to $104 million;

  • Gut public safety programs to the tune of $94 million with raids on the 911 Fund, the Volunteer Companies Loan Fund, the Manufacturing Fund and the Justice Reinvestment Fund;

  • Transfer $5 million from the Substance Abuse Education and Demand Reduction Fund, meaning $5 million would not be available for substance and opioid abuse treatment and prevention; and

  • Reduce business and economic development programs by $122.7 million, with raids on the Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund, the Small Business First Fund, the CFA New PA Venture Capital Fund, the Ben Franklin Tech Development Fund and the municipalities Financial Recovery Revolving Aid Fund.

To top it off, House Democrats said a House GOP amendment would cut health care programs by increasing the raid on the Tobacco Settlement Fund from $14.8 million to $120 million.

The TSF money pays all of the costs for tobacco use prevention and cessation, hospital uncompensated care payments and part of the costs for the Medicaid entitlement programs that provide nursing facility care, home- and community-based services for seniors, and medical assistance for workers with disabilities.

“It is shocking that GOP House lawmakers who say they want to bring a so-called shadow budget into the light are making these stealth cuts to vital government programs while denying that this is what they are doing,” Wheatley said. “House Democrats have a viable alternative, and we can get this done by Friday.”