(The Center Square) – Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $44.4 billion spending plan faced immediate scrutiny on Tuesday from lawmakers tasked with balancing the state’s checkbook.
Senate Republicans, who control the chamber with a comfortable majority, said the administration’s math undercounts the price tag on the wide-ranging proposal by roughly $1.4 billion.
“He said a lot of things up there we agree with,” said Senate President Kim Ward, R-Greensburg. “But the devil is always in the details.”
According to legislative staff, the administration calculated the lower figure by incorporating $520 million in expiring federal Medicaid funding into its revenue total and removing $930 million spent on the Pennsylvania State Police out of the budget entirely.
Instead, Shapiro uses revenues from taxes on gas, tobacco, and liquor – as well as other motor vehicle fees and fines – to cover ballooning PSP costs. The agency provides police coverage to municipalities across two-thirds of the state and has increased its drag on the budget for years.
Factoring this in – plus the final federal supplement to cover expanded Medicaid enrollment – means the actual price tag, staff said, is closer to $45.8 billion. It’s a figure House Republican leadership stands by, too.
The administration’s budget forecast also empties the state’s $5.6 billion rainy day fund over the next four years, leaving lawmakers with a multi-billion dollar deficit to fill – traditionally through program cuts or tax raises.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Scott Martin, R-Strasburg, criticized the strategy during a news conference Tuesday.
“That’s not fiscal stability and that’s not good for the fiscal health of the commonwealth,” he said.
In a statement issued later the same day, Martin added that while Shapiro’s proposal starts in a “more realistic place,” the price tag still concerns him.
“We cannot spend more money than we’re taking in,” he said. “We should be looking for ways to build up our Rainy Day Fund – not empty it.”
House and Senate Democrats shrugged off the upset as more handwringing. They say Republicans lean on pessimistic revenue projections rather than acknowledge the revenue impacts of Shapiro’s social and economic proposals – such as doubling the minimum wage, expanding access to affordable child care and growing jobs by attracting business expansion.
“Listen, over the next weeks you’re going to hear certain people talk about spending,” said House Appropriations Chairman Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia. “I want you to remember that word investment. This isn’t about spending. This is about investing in Pennsylvania and investing in Pennsylvanians.”
Harris took on the role of majority chairman earlier this month after House Democrats cemented their one-seat advantage, upsetting the decade-plus control Republicans held on both chambers.
“Today’s speech by Governor Shapiro is the first step in a process that I’m confident will lead to a budget that improves the lives of all Pennsylvanians,” Harris said. “From investing in our students and their education and well-being to ensuring seniors can stay in the home they’ve spent their lives in, we have before us a tremendous opportunity to create a more fair and just Pennsylvania.”
This piece was originally published in The Center Square. Read the original article here.
Christen joins The Center Square as its Pennsylvania News Editor and brings with her more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues from all angles. She’s a Pennsylvania State University alumna and has been published in the The Washington Examiner, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, RealClear and Broad + Liberty, among others.