When it comes to legislation as Brobdingnagian as the state budget, with so many moving pieces, so many constituencies trying to get theirs, it’s to be expected that there would be plenty of blame to go around if things go south. And, this being Pennsylvania, it was more a question of when, not if, the process would break down.
What wasn’t expected was for the narrative to so clearly delineate at whose feet to lay the lion’s share of the blame.
Ever since the House GOP leadership decided that the best thing for members to do during the summer would be to go on vacation instead of working to find common ground on a revenue plan with the Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf, this week’s outcome has been all but predetermined. What has come as a surprise is just how completely the House has embraced the heel role.
As has been documented here and elsewhere, the House GOP’s focus on trying to use revenue streams like expanded gaming and borrowing from the cigarette settlement to pay for the budget ensured that they would never have to seriously consider implementing any sort of severance tax – something that even the Senate GOP supermajority managed to incorporate into its plan.
That’s not to say that the House doesn’t have a soft spot for raising taxes. After all, thanks to their intransigence, we can all look forward to having to pay more to borrow money from financial institutions thanks to the inevitable credit downgrade from Standard & Poor. And they deserve credit for proposing to almost double the state’s hotel tax and increase the state’s warehousing tax – something that would have a decidedly chilling effect on any large, shipping-oriented corporation looking to expand operations in the state. Of course, it’s no doubt a coincidence that these two levies proposed by a Republican majority with almost no members from urban districts would disproportionately affect urban areas with high concentrations of hotel rooms and corporate headquarters both real and hoped-for.
It remains to be seen just how Gov. Wolf’s caretaker plan will – or even can – reset the fiscal equation. Relying on LCB revenues is a dicey proposition these days. But given the reality of the ruthlessly gerrymandered electoral landscape in the commonwealth, there is no incentive for the Republican-dominated House to change its tune. Especially when there are tens of millions of reasons why they should continue singing that same anti-severance tax song.
Josh Shapiro: The AG continues his high-profile winning streak, something that has itself warranted extensive coverage. This week’s trophy: a lawsuit against Navient, the country’s largest student loan company, for pressuring borrowers into “risky and expensive” subprime loans.
Dr. Stephen Diamantoni: The Lancaster County coroner went above and beyond in his efforts to ensure that the remains of unclaimed veterans – a tragic byproduct of an overwhelming increase in unidentified and unclaimed bodies across the state – in the county morgue would receive proper burials.
Natural gas drillers: Now this is what they mean by “return on investment”: For the low, low price of $60 million spent on lobbying and donations over seven years, the industry has seen no fewer than 67 bills designed to tax them killed.
Tim Murphy: A staunchly anti-choice married politician pressuring his mistress to get an abortion? That’s as surprising as a staunchly homophobic politician hiring rentboys. And the GOP congressman’s greatest sin in the eyes of House leadership wasn’t even that peccadillo – it was the looming investigation into his tyrannical reign over staff.
State-affiliated universities: Now that the budget process has imploded, Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities and Penn Vet School are faced with a funding dilemma to the tune of a cumulative $600 million. Expect the brain drain to get worse if no solution is reached to bridge the gap.
CHIP enrollees: For the 176,000 Pennsylvania kids covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program and their families, the future is a bleak one, thanks to Congress’ failure to fund the program that provides health care for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. But the families that were counting on that protection can comfort themselves with the knowledge that the House put so much energy into passing an anti-abortion bill that is widely known to have no chance of getting out of the Senate.