New state budgeting office still a question for legislature

    State lawmakers passed a budget but will not discus creating an independent budgeting office until this fall.

    Lawmakers in Harrisburg managed to pass a budget over the weekend after agreeing to postpone a contentious battle over creating a new independent financial office in the capitol. The office would attempt to address age-old bickering about the real costs of budget items.

    Among the things politicians fight about are how much new government programs might cost, and how much new taxes, like a cigar tax might bring in. Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center says there’s no shortage of experts in Harrisburg.

    “Pennsylvania has very highly skilled, highly competent appropriations staff, but there are four sets of them,” she said.

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    That’s because in Harrisburg millions of your tax dollars are whacked up along partisan lines, so Republicans and Democrats in the state house and senate each get their own competing technical staffs, who can argue with the governor’s experts.

    State Senator Pat Brown (R, 16th) wants to create something in Harrisburg like the Congressional Budget Office in Washington, generating non-partisan, independent financial data everyone can rely on.

    One difference – under Brown’s proposal, the new state fiscal office would have the final say on state revenue estimates, taking that authority away from the governor. Governor Rendell is interested, but doesn’t think the new office should have the authority to set binding revenue estimates for the government. That will be something to fight about when lawmakers consider the proposal later this year.

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