By Rep. Dan Truitt
On June 30, the PA legislature claimed victory in passing the 2016-17 budget “on-time.” Unfortunately, that’s not what really happened.
Last year, I wrote many times about the fact that a “budget” has two halves – revenues (income) and appropriations (expenditures). Our state constitution requires these to balance. We are simply not permitted to spend more money than we expect to receive under the existing tax laws. If we want to spend more, we must pass bills to raise more revenues, which usually means raising taxes.
On June 1, 2015, the House Majority Leader excoriated the Minority Appropriations Chairman for attempting to force a vote on the spending side of the Governor’s 2015-16 budget proposal without first having a vote on the revenue side of the Governor’s proposal. The motion to consider the spending plan was put on hold and a vote was called for the Governor’s revenue plan. Every member of the House of Representatives – Republican and Democrat – voted against the Governor’s revenue plan. Subsequently, the House returned to consideration of the Governor’s spending plan and the motion was ruled out of order because the plan spent more money than was available and passage would have violated the state constitution.
In my view, this established an excellent precedent that we should always insist that a revenue bill, if required, be passed BEFORE we vote on a spending bill and that was the only reason why I voted against a $30.8 billion spending plan under “second consideration” in December of 2015. To do anything different would have been a violation of my oath of office. The 2015-2016 budget dragged out because no one ever proposed a viable tax plan to raise the revenue required to spend more than $30.3 billion. The nightmare finally ended when all parties finally accepted the fact that there was no support for tax increases and that a $30.3 billion budget was the only constitutional option on the table.
This year, an awful lot of folks seemed to conveniently forget about this part of last year’s budget battle and, last week, we passed a spending bill and sent it to the Governor without a revenue bill. Now, when I say we didn’t have a revenue bill, it’s not like we knew what we were going to put into it, but just hadn’t gotten around to drafting the bill and voting on it. We literally did not know where we were going to get the money to cover the $31.6 billion spending plan. Those of you who know me can probably guess what I did. I voted NO.
For the record, this budget is the first one that I have been forced to oppose on final passage since I arrived in Harrisburg in 2011. Even last year, I supported every spending plan that was considered for final passage because they all represented the best we could get with the available funds and we needed to get the job done for the people of Pennsylvania.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective, my vote was not needed to pass the spending plan last night. However, one of my junior colleagues asked me what happens if we can’t pass a revenue plan to go with a spending plan that has been signed by the Governor. There is no good answer to this question. I sure hope we don’t find out.