Government and Policy Update

Budget Debate in Harrisburg


This month, ASCE is following the budget debate in Harrisburg, which once again is contentious.

The state has been running without an official budget since the Sept 15 deadline (and the budget is supposed to be in place by July 1), with widely different budget proposals from the PA House and PA Senate. The PA House version proposed deep cuts, including “retroactive” cuts to this year’s budget which would have nearly eliminated key funding programs such as PennDOT’s Multimodal Fund, PADEP brownfields and UST cleanup funds, and a majority of DCNR’s Trails, Greenways and Parks funding; and would have forced SEPTA (and other transit agencies) to cut services as much as 40%, with an immediate 500 employee layoffs. The PA Senate version proposed cuts, additional borrowing, and targeted tax increases, with even Republican Senators acknowledging that hard decisions had to be made and tax increases would be needed to balance the budget.

The horror scenario would be a continued budget stand-off, which could become the worst in history. Credit rating downgrades or state budget freezes would result. For those who don’t follow government on a day-to-day basis, credit rating downgrades would mean that it would cost the state more to borrow money for infrastructure projects, which would mean continued delayed maintenance and capital investment.  Budget freezes would result in state employee layoffs, claw-back of existing funds, slower government services, and similar delayed maintenance and capital investments. Counties, cities, and schools across the state would also see their budgets suddenly reduced. This affects everyone in this room, both personally and professionally.

As of Friday, 9/29, we hear that the PA Senate has been called back into session for next week, so a deal might be in offing. Or, the budget stand-off might just continue.

HOWEVER (and we do mean to use capital letters), with every year’s budget discussions being further and further delayed not because the budget situation is getting worse and worse, but because different parties within our legislature seem not to know the meaning of the words “agreement” and “responsibility”, we must urge all our members to get involved and contact our legislators.  Keep in mind that your quality of life and the way you do things can and may be affected by what boils down to a political stalemate – and as citizens we should not suffer because our elected officials cannot do what they need to do every year and enact a responsible spending plan.  It’s not rocket science and we need it.

During ASCE’s annual PA Legislative Day in Harrisburg this past May, every senator and representative we talked with told us that they want to hear from us—and not just once a year.  They need our technical input—both problems and solutions—to make the case for wise infrastructure decisions.  And they need our prodding to make sure that they find proactive ways to reach agreement and to better manage the state budget.

PLEASE contact your elected officials in Harrisburg and let them know your opinion. It is as easy as one click and one email away: Contact your elected official.

If you would like more information, or would like help writing your message, please contact ASCE Philadelphia’s Government Affairs Team: Ann Tomalavage, Bob Wirght, or Spencer Finch.

Further Details on PA House and PA Senate Proposals
 

The state has been running without an official budget since the Sept 15 deadline for approval.  Last week (week of Sept 25), the PA Senate approved their version of the budget, which now goes back to the PA House for reconciliation.

The PA Senate budget proposal focuses on instituting a Marcellus Shale severance tax, borrowing against future revenue, increased utility taxes, expanded gambling, and asking Amazon and eBay to collect sales taxes from third-party sellers. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (a Republican from Centre County), urged passage of the Senate budget, saying that lawmakers had held the line on tax increases for as long as they could, but that it was time to make tough choices and approve the Senate version of the budget.

On the previous week the PA House had approved a widely different version, which instead labeled existing state budgets as “lapsed funds” (to the tune of $400 million) and shifted them to the general fund; and sought a much reduced one-time lump-sum payment from the 1998 state tobacco settlement fund, instead of yearly payments. The lapsed funds proved the most controversial, since they are in reality committed funds and operating budgets for many state and local agencies – including SEPTA and all transit agencies across the state; and the state’s brownfields and UST funds, multimodal funds, recycling funds, and many others. These are all funds that could disappear and impact the work that we do.

(If accepted the proposal would have nearly eliminated key funding programs such as PennDOT’s Multimodal Fund, PADEP brownfields and UST cleanup funds, and a majority of DCNR’s Trails, Greenways and Parks funding; and would have forced SEPTA (and other transit agencies) to cut services as much as 40%, with an immediate 500 employee layoffs).