Pennsylvania budget talks heat up as Republican lawmakers seek tax cut

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Governor gave his budget address back in February chock full of a wish list of programs he’d like to fund with the state’s surplus.

Senate Republicans all-but blew that up by calling for an income tax cut.

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This Week in Pennsylvania

It is certainly a politically popular notion, but is it politically possible?

“The budget I bring before you is a painful but necessary first step,” then-Governor Ed Rendell said in his 2000 budget address. His budget pain led to a personal income tax increase from 2.8% to 3.07%.

Decades later, with roughly $14 billion in reserves, Senate Republicans want to roll it back to 2.8%.

“If the belief is we have too much money in the bank account, then let’s take it and bring it back to the people that put it there in the first place,” Senator Joe Pittman, Republican Majority Leader, said.

Governor Shapiro’s budget wants to spend on seniors and mass transit, public schools, and higher ed. Investments that will pay dividends, Democrats insist, and make up for years of underfunding vital programs.

“We should stay the course of making the targeted investments that we know don’t just bring us the dollar back, but brings us multiple dollars back into the state’s coffers,” Rep. Jordan Harris (D), Appropriations Chairman.

“Nobody wants to pay more taxes, including myself,” Rep. Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia) said.

Neilson concedes cutting taxes is popular and politically shrewd, and notes several Senate Democrats joined Republicans in voting for it, but says he won’t.

“We would be a hero for a little bit because then the bill becomes due. And that’s the scary part,” Neilson said.

But as budget negotiations heat up, Republicans have a pretty hot talking point.

“We should be looking for new and better ways to ensure that the government isn’t taking the money that we don’t need,” Rep. Tim O’Neal, Republican whip, said.

But Harris adds, what the state fails to pay or, somebody else does.

“You and I both know, when the state doesn’t provide the resources necessary, the local government raises taxes to do it.

“The point of all of this is to drive our agenda to the House, to the Governor, make it clear where we stand, and then we’ll negotiate where we need to negotiate and come to a consensus,” Pittman said.

And conventional wisdom here at the Capitol is that this latest budget wrinkle all-but guarantees the budget will not be done by the June 30 deadline.

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