With a bottom line rocked by COVID-19, Pa. lawmakers set to pass stop-gap budget this week

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf delivers his sixth budget address to a joint session of the general assembly inside the House of Representatives chamber at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on Tuesday, Feb. 4. (Photo from Commonwealth Media Services).

(*This story was updated at 12:25 pm on Tuesday, 5/26/20 with comments from Gov. Tom Wolf)

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is prepared to pass a temporary budget this week that would push off tough spending choices until after the 2020 election, according to two Capitol sources with knowledge of the process.

The proposed budget was presented to House Democrats Monday afternoon in a virtual caucus, according to another three House Democratic sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. 

The plan presented to them included a projected $5 billion shortfall between this year’s revenue and next year’s spending.

The sources indicated that the budget would equal roughly five months of spending based on last year’s fiscal blueprint, which passed with bipartisan support in late June. Education funding would be an exception, receiving a full-year budget, but with no increase based on current, approved spending for fiscal 2019-2020.

The temporary measure is due to the uncertain revenues from the COVID-19 pandemic, which have already zapped at least $2.3 billion from state’s coffers as of the end of April.

Legislative leaders in both the House and Senate, controlled by Republicans, have floated stop-gap budgeting measures ever since the virus first started closing businesses and keeping people indoors.

Speaking to reporters last week, Gov. Tom Wolf said that “there’s a lot there are a lot of unknowns, but added that “given those … there’s really good bipartisan cooperation.”

“I think that we’re actually making good progress,” Wolf said.

Some of that revenue would likely be recouped over the summer due to the delayed income tax deadline, state officials have said.

*Speaking Tuesday, Wolf added that he feared locking the state into a budget that would then be ruined by a second outbreak in fall.

“I think all of us are struggling to figure out what the next few months will look like,” Wolf added.

Negotiations are still ongoing, and likely will continue over the weekend, House Republican Spokesperson Mike Straub said Friday.

“We hope for a potential budget vote next week, but we’re still a long way from making sure that happens,” Straub told the Capital-Star.

But he confirmed that the plan would call for flat funded “as much as we can” before the General Assembly takes another crack when revenues are finalized.

The Independent Fiscal Office, a non-partisan policy analysis office, estimated in May that the total cost to the state of the pandemic would approach $4 billion until next June, when Pennsylvania’s traditional budget years begin and end.

Associate Editor Cassie Miller contributed reporting.