It’s Budget Week (again). Here’s what you need to know | Monday Morning Coffee

November 16, 2020 7:11 am

Governor Tom Wolf speaks about efforts to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage. Governor Tom Wolf is building on his commitment to help hardworking Pennsylvanians. Today, the governor joined legislators and workers to renew his call to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $12 an hour with a pathway to $15. Later this week, the governor’s plan to extend overtime pay eligibility to 82,000 more workers will be considered by the state’s rule-making board. Harrisburg, PA – January 28, 2019

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The state House and Senate return to work this week after a three-week Election Day recess with one goal, and one goal only on their minds: to get a state budget onto Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk before the current legislative session ends on Nov. 30, even as they contend with a pandemic-induced, $5 billion tax revenue shortfall that’s expected to endure through most of 2021.

More astute readers will recall that, back in May, Democrat Wolf and the Republican-controlled General Assembly agreed to a $28.5 billion stopgap plan that provided most of state government with five months’ worth of funding that also provided a full year’s worth of funding for public education.

The two factions will return to Harrisburg with relationships between the two at a low ebb.

Republicans remain vexed at Wolf over what they see as his executive overreach during a public health crisis that had claimed the lives on 9,274 Pennsylvanians through Saturday. Wolf and his fellow Democrats are warily eyeing Republicans, who are parroting the Trump White House’s line on the 2020 election and promising to audit its results.

The rare, lame duck session will find lawmakers who are retiring or have lost re-election casting ballots on a budget, and perhaps other pieces of legislation, without facing any accountability from the voters for their actions. And while it’s been a while, history teaches us that the capacity for mischief under such circumstances remains high.

As an added bonus, if the two sides are somehow unable get a deal by Nov. 30 — and the pressure is high — the state could face layoffs and service cuts as its current spending plan expires and the 2019-2020 legislative session comes to a close, as the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso and Elizabeth Hardison reported last month.

Below, a look at some of the potential revenue-raisers on the table — and a wishlist from House Republicans and Senate Democrats as Budget Debate, The Sequel, gets underway.

(Image via Flickr Commons)

Right now, lawmakers and the Wolf administration have a number of revenue-raising options on the table as they look to close that yawning budget deficit we mentioned up above. They include:

  • Expanding gambling by allowing bars and restaurants, battered by the pandemic, to install video-gambling terminals. The expansion could bring in as much as $250 million a year.
  • Legalizing recreational marijuana — which is favored by the administration but ardently opposed by Republicans. Though the lure of the predicted $600 million that legalized weed could generate could prove more palatable now that voters in neighboring New Jersey have given their blessing to it.
  • New Debt: As of last month, some lawmakers had been talking about taking on new debt to patch budget holes. Though as Caruso and Hardison reported, such a move is both difficult and unpopular.
  • Waiting on the Feds: Pennsylvania is still sitting on unspent CARES Act money, and some lawmakers want to see what Washington will do on a new COVID-19 stimulus bill before tapping that cash. Federal law forbids the state from spending the money to patch budget holes. But there have been no shortage of ideas on how to spend the $1.3 billion in remaining cash on program items. With Washington consumed by the election, and Congress at a standstill on a stimulus package, Pennsylvania likely won’t have the luxury of waiting.
House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

In an e-mail, Neal Lesher, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, said the chamber’s GOP majority (which will be strengthened in 2021 after some Election Day wins), is looking to pass a spending plan that “continues to fully fund education, fully funds public health and safety, and protects our most vulnerable.”

Lesher told the Capital-Star that the House GOP is working with Republicans who control the state Senate to “finalize a budget” that “[utilizes] existing resources, and without tax increases or public borrowing.”

Democrats, meanwhile, come to the negotiating table with an agenda that includes full funding for the state Department of Human Services; emergency assistance for Pennsylvanians through the unspent CARES Act money, and avoiding furloughs for state employees.

“We are eight months into a pandemic and people across the state are experiencing major need for state programs and additional financial assistance – we must keep them in mind as we complete this unusual budget year,” Senate Democratic spokeswoman Brittany Crampsie told the Capital-Star. “It’s the top priority of the Senate Democrats to pass a budget that maintains operations in Human Services and funds assistance in housing and utility bills.”

Pack snacks and put on some comfortable shoes, friends. It’s going to be a long week.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
In this week’s edition of The Numbers RacketCassie Miller charts the decades-long decline of Pennsylvania’s manufacturing sector. Though there is some encouraging news in there amid the doom and gloom.

Miller also talked to some experts about whether the post-election noise emanating from the Trump White House is just an epic tantrum or the harbinger of something much darker. 

A borough in western Pennsylvania is expected to vote today on a proposal to strip a slur against Native Americans from the names of a local street, trail and waterway, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

Our partners at the Central Voice chat with state Rep.-elect Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny, who is set to become the first out LGBTQ woman in the General Assembly.

In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney could roll out a plan this week to give tasers to all city police officers, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

En la Estrella-Capital: La ACLU de Pa. y grupos de derechos civiles presentan una moción para intervenir en la ‘indignante’ demanda de la campaña de Trump. Y poniendo a un lado las elecciónes, ¿qué está pasando con el conteo del censo?

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman celebrates the impending return of science to Washington D.C.  Speaking of science, a University of Carolina scholar uses computer modeling to show why mask-wearing works. 

Gov. Tom Wolf 
and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy have been warning residents of their states to be mindful and “buckle down” as COVID-19 cases surge, though no new restrictions are on the books yet, the Inquirer reports.
The Trump campaign has ‘jettisoned’ major parts of its legal challenges against Pennsylvania’s election results, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive explains how Joe Biden turned Dauphin County a deeper shade of blue this election season (paywall).
Pennsylvania college students may be bringing COVID-19 home with them over Thanksgiving break, the Morning Call reports.
The Citizens-Voice looks at the lessons we’ve learned from this historic campaign season.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

With Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney set to announce a partial, citywide shutdown today, WHYY-FM talks to one restaurant owner about how she’s planning to weather the storm.
The Pittsburgh city schools return to full, online learning this weekWESA-FM reports.
Gun crimes have spiked in Erie during the pandemic, GoErie reports.
Republican and Democratic officials alike in Fayette County have praised the transparency during the vote count, the Herald-Standard reports.
PoliticsPA runs down more winners and losers from Campaign 2020.
Unable to flip statehouses, Democratic legislators across the country are frustrated they won’t be able to tackle climate reports.
Republican governors are stepping up to say that President Donald Trump needs to stop blockading the Biden transition, Talking Points Memo reports.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate come in at 1 p.m. today.
Here’s a look at the committee action in each chamber.
First up, the House:
12:30 p.m., B31 Main Capitol: Transportation Committee
Call of the Chair, Room 140 Main Capitol: Appropriations Committee
And the Senate:
Off the Floor: Senate Appropriations Committee
Off the Floor: Rules & Executive Nominations Committee
11:30 a.m.: Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine holds a briefing on the state of the pandemic in Pa.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to reader and friend, Hannah Dobek, co-owner of the wonderful Metropolis Collective in Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, and to former GOP LG candidate, Jeff Bartos, of Montgomery County, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations all around, folks.

Heavy Rotation.
We were in a Crowded House frame of mind on Sunday, the music seemed to fit the rain. From their sophomore LP ‘Temple of Low Men,’ here’s the gorgeous ‘Love this Life.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
Aston Villa star Jack Grealish shined during England’s 2-0 win over Belgiumnetting praise from team manager Gareth Southgate. Give the man a starting spot, already.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.