The wheels on the state budget bus go round and round

It’s been almost, four months after Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address, and once again, we see gridlock.

But where is the process headed? Is there a process? If you listen to the news in passing you probably know it is due to be passed by June 30. You probably also know that the budget isn’t always passed that day.

The June 30 budget deadline isn’t just a random date that sometimes interferes with July 4thcelebrations if passed on time. The Commonwealth’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. The budget code requires that governors present their budget proposal on the first Tuesday of February before a combined session of the General Assembly. Newly elected governors get an extra month, and are required to submit a plan on the first Tuesday of March. Once the plan is revealed, sometimes leaked to the press, there is an endless amount of commentary from legislators of both sides of the aisle and interest groups.

Once the budget address is given, the appointed (even those not yet confirmed) secretaries of each department testify before the House and Senate appropriations committees. This is to answer questions regarding the Governor’s budget plan often times, causing heated discussions about spending. This process lasts roughly a month. Then the process of getting legislation together in order to pass a budget and for 2015-16 the Commonwealth is looking at a $33.3 billion dollars spending plan.

When you think of a budget bill, don’t just think of one piece of legislation, which is often hundreds of pages in length. There are actually several different code bills that must be passed. There is always the General Fund bill, the Fiscal Code, and if there is a change in the Tax Code, there will be a Tax Code bill. There is also an Education Code bill and a Welfare Code bill.

While it is difficult enough, as we saw under the Corbett Administration, to get a House, Senate and Governor of the same party to agree to a budget on time, it seems impossible to find someone who believes the budget will be passed by June 30 this year, let alone by Columbus Day.  

In 1991, a $13.9 billion spending plan that squeaked through on Aug. 4 included $2.85 billion in new taxes, a mixture of higher personal income and business taxes and an expanded sales tax that covered such additional items as delivered pizza, lobbying and lawn care. While, as recent as 2009, it took then Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled House and Senate 101 days to come to a spending agreement.

SO, while the wheels on the state budget bus go round and round, there is an end in sight – we just don’t know where the bus will stop.