(The Center Square) – A $10.6 billion spending plan emerged from the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee on Thursday with no bipartisan support as the Nov. 30 deadline nears.
At the heart of Democrats’ disapproval is Republicans’ use of $1.3 billion in leftover federal CARES Act money to help backfill the $3 billion deficit. The minority party wanted to direct more aid to front line workers, hospitals, child care centers, restaurants and other industries hard hit by prolonged economic restrictions.
The plan also moves $500 million from other state accounts to help cover the gap. Lyndsay Kensinger, spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf, did not comment specifically on whether the administration supported using pandemic aid to balance the budget, but did say the governor is working with the General Assembly to finalize a plan before the end of the month.
“It is critical for us to finalize the budget by November to avoid furloughs and any stoppage of critical payments to providers and grantees,” she said via email Friday.
Legislators approved a $25.8 billion budget in May meant to fund government operations through the end of November. At the time, deficit projections neared $6 billion as a result of reduced tax revenues from pandemic restrictions. Better-than-expected performance cut the gap in half.
Still, accounting tricks could leave the state in a difficult position come June 30, said Commonwealth Foundation Vice President and COO Nathan Benefield. The foundation would’ve liked to see additional funds support students with the costs of remote learning.
“As it stands, this budget deal provides some spending reductions and prudently uses excess reserves to close the budget gap,” he said. “However, by relying on one-time funds, it opens the door to tax hikes in 2021. And it does nothing to help families and students struggling with education costs and school closings caused by the pandemic.”
The full House could consider the budget plan as early as Friday. As long as Wolf agrees, Republicans can pass the measure without any bipartisan support.