In an unexpected move, House Republicans have introduced their own budget bill for the upcoming fiscal year.
The $31.5 billion plan slashes about $800 million off the already-lean proposal Governor Tom Wolf pitched in February. It also gets rid of the billion dollars in new tax revenue Wolf used to balance his budget.
Instead, it claims to make up for the commonwealth’s approximately $3 billion structural deficit with slashes to nearly every line item. In particular, it cuts $130 million more from Corrections than Wolf’s plan does, and nearly $350 million more from Health and Human Services.
It’s not clear where those savings would come from.
The Republicans also left open the question of new funding. House Majority Leader Dave Reed told reporters that was by design.
“Our budget requires about $800 million worth of revenue,” he said. “We’re open to a discussion on those items, and look, other people may have more ideas across the general assembly.”
Most likely, he said, a significant portion of that money will come from expansions to liquor sales or gambling.
Joe Markosek, the Democratic chair of the Appropriations Committee, said GOP’s steep cuts aren’t getting rid of waste at this point—they’re dismantling necessary programs.
He added, without a specific plan to achieve its massive savings, the budget proposal is not fiscally sound.
“Expediency should not claim common sense as a victim,” he told the Appropriations Committee.
Despite unanimous opposition from Markosek and the rest of the Democratic committee members, the bill passed easily to the full House.
Republicans hope to bring it to a floor vote this week.
In a statement, Wolf said the GOP’s early budget pitch is constructive. But he took issue with the proposal’s cuts to Human Services and its lack of investment in early childhood education.
He noted that the structural deficit is continuing to grow, and maintained that the best way to keep the commonwealth financially stable is “not only through making cuts and identifying savings, but closing loopholes and making corporations pay their fair share.”