House approval first of many steps in state budget talks

The good news is that the state House of Representatives has passed its version of the state budget in early April, nearly three months ahead of the June 30 budget deadline.

The bad news is that the $31.5 billion plan is $800 million less than Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget.

Rep. Garth Everett, a Muncy Republican, acknowledged that the House budget approval, by a 114-84 vote, is just the beginning, with many budget negotiations ahead.

There are plenty of indications that Everett’s view is correct. The House budget includes 60 percent of the cuts that Gov. Wolf proposed, with the balance of the cuts coming from the House.

And Rep. Mike Hanna, a Lock Haven Democrat, disagrees with the package. He said the House could have done better “for the people of Pennsylvania.” He cited elimination of funding for safe school initiatives, pre-kindergarten and Head Start programs, medical assistance, seniors and human services programs.

He said some of the cuts will also impact human services programs at the county level.

State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, a Loyalsock Township Republican, said the problem is “there is more need than there are dollars.”

If the Senate wants to add new items, it will have to cut somewhere else or find a new source of revenue to pay for those spending increases, he said.

And there seems to be general agreement in the House, Senate and Wolf administration on no broad-based tax increase at the state level.

It sounds like the Legislature and Wolf administration are still a long way from a budget agreement.

But the House approval in early April is a big step forward from the days when no one knew what was in the budget plan produced by a chosen few until the final days of June.