Tension rises between Pa. House GOP and Wolf; state’s general fund teeters near zero

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf (AP, file)

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf (AP, file)

The main fund Pennsylvania uses to pay its bills would have hit zero this week, if not for a $700 million transfer from the state’s Motor License Fund.

The transfer buys the state a little time, according to a spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf, and allows it to at least make payments to school districts for the start of the school year.

Wolf sent a dire letter to House Republican leaders Monday urging them to pass the Senate budget plan quickly to prevent an interruption of state programs.

In recent weeks, the state Treasury and the governor have been warning repeatedly that the general fund is close to empty.

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Usually when that happens, the Treasury loans money to tide the fund over.

But Treasurer Joe Torsella has said he won’t do so without balancing the budget — which is still $2.2 billion short.

The short-term Motor License transfer is highly unusual, and the money will likely run out around Sept. 15.

It’s unclear what Wolf will do if that happens and there’s still no revenue plan in sight. Treasury spokesman Michael Connolly said options include deferring payments or freezing spending.

“What we have is revenue that’s going to be coming in, and we have obligations that are due to pay some things,” he said. “The governor’s office could decide to do that with some things and not others; they could try to do that with everything, or none of it.”

Among the payments due Sept. 15 are payroll for state workers, including lawmakers and their staff.

Meanwhile, House GOP Spokesman Steve Miskin said his caucus doesn’t think the governor is committed to negotiating.

“He’s never called a meeting,” Miskin said. “What concrete thing has the governor done to try and build a consensus?”

House Republicans are working on a plan they said balances the budget on one-time fund transfers, instead of borrowing and tax increases.

It’s unclear if it will get enough support to pass the House, much less be agreed to by the Senate and governor.

The House is scheduled to resume session Sept. 11— four days before the general fund is likely to hit zero again.

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