Local lawmakers are in agreement

Local lawmakers made it clear this week they are on board to plug a revenue gap in the budget by drawing down excess fund balances from programs rather than raising taxes or borrowing.

Despite outcry from officials and beneficiaries of those programs, state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, said he feels it’s simply the best choice.

“Of note is the fact that we would use these fund balances to plug a one-time $1.5 billion deficit resulting from a miscalculation on what our revenues would be last budget year,” he said. “Once that hole is plugged, we will be on level ground for next year. These fund transfers are not being used to fund ongoing operations for this year — just to plug the unexpected shortfall in revenues last year.”

State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, is on the same page as his House colleague.

“I know my district, the 83rd, they can not afford tax hikes. I’m not going to allow it with my vote,” he said. “I am definitely in favor of tapping these funds as long as it doesn’t hurt any contracted projects moving forward. Why would you want to go out and borrow money when you have it in your savings account?”

Everett said the more than three dozen programs being considered have “amazingly high fund balances” not being spent.

He said lawmakers don’t want to tap committed money, but only programs with excess funds.

The House was expected to take a vote on the revenue side of the budget Wednesday night.

Everett said he has heard from people concerned about losing funding.

“I understand these groups being upset,” he said. “PennDOT is saying there will be direct repercussions. We have been told otherwise. Those are excess funds sitting there.”

Leslie S. Richards, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, released a statement this week noting that the plan to cut funding from dedicated sources is based on “misleading information” and could lead to transit services cuts in small and large systems.

Everett said he’s heard from officials that have included Gail Kulp, executive director of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, which uses state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) funding for grant projects.

Kulp has made it clear that an immediate loss of $192,075 from four DCNR grant projects would jeopardize River Town projects, trail and park planning, as well as staffing.

State Rep. Matt Baker, R-Wellsboro, said, “Every good faith effort is being made to dissect this state budget to ascertain the nature and degree of lapsed funds, unused funds and funds that could be transferred that may be off book or held in reserve to prevent a massive tax increase or borrowing proposal that would be deleterious to our taxpayers. This is an attempt to utilize one-time available resources for a one-time budget deficit fix. Tax increases and or borrowing should be an absolute last resort as part of a state budget and the vast majority of my constituents are strongly opposed to tax increases. It is my sincere hope we will have another budget vote sometime this week to send to the Senate for their consideration.”

Everett said that no matter what happens, he and other lawmakers are learning a lot about the funds being targeted.

“A lot of these funds don’t have a lot of transparency,” he added.