Episode 29: Not with a bang, but a whimper

It’s probably a little much to reference T.S. Eliot in a podcast title. But dealing as we are with a budget balanced on a borrowing-based plan that none of its makers even like, it does feel appropriate.

This week, after four months of trying, the House and Senate successfully got an entire $2.2 billion revenue package onto Governor Tom Wolf’s desk. It includes $1.5 billion in borrowing, a bunch of internal fund transfers, and a massive expansion to the commonwealth’s gaming industry.

Liz Navratil of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Philly Inquirer and Steve Esack of the Morning Call help break down exactly what that expansion—by far the most complicated component of the budget—will mean for the PA Casino industry, and for the state’s bottom line.

Plus, we try to predict whether this impasse will change the way the state does its budgets, and take a step back to identify the political—and moral—winners and losers.

Episode 28: We all hate it. Let’s vote for it.

This week, a budget plan based almost entirely on borrowing and internal fund transfers was mostly passed by the House, and Senate leaders indicated they’re going to give it serious consideration.

Even the Republican authors of the plan admit, they don’t like it much. So why, then, does everyone seem so resigned to passing it? Capitolwire’s Chris Comisac and John Baer, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, attempt to explain.

Plus, we’ll discuss stalled funding for state-related universities, ask why gambling revenue estimates are so high, and predict the fate of a severance tax bill that recently gained purchase in the House.

Episode 27: What happens next? It’s anyone’s guess.

State Treasurer Joe Torsella stepped back into the political fray this week when he authorized a short-term loan to get the commonwealth’s general fund through a few lean days.

That move comes after he spent about two months refusing to authorize a loan on the grounds that the budget wasn’t balanced. It technically still isn’t, and now the whole situation has many Republicans calling hypocrisy.

Torsella’s reasoning for giving the loan is that Governor Tom Wolf has now pledged to take unilateral action (mainly borrowing) to keep the commonwealth’s books balanced. He has sketched out a rough picture of how he plans to do that, but there’s been no official proposal released, and many of the component parts of Wolf’s plan appear less than guaranteed.

Meanwhile, Torsella still has to decide whether he’ll authorize another, much larger loan later in the month. If he doesn’t, the commonwealth could miss major payments to public schools.

Plus, the legislature is scheduled to return to Harrisburg Monday following their cooling-off week. But no one seems to know what they’re going to do—including lawmakers themselves.

The Philly Inquirer’s Angela Couloumbis and the AP’s Marc Levy explain.

Episode 26: Meltdown

At the beginning of this week, it seemed as though Pennsylvania’s three-months-late, unbalanced budget was finally heading toward a resolution. But then, one after another, various plans to close the gap sputtered out.

By Wednesday afternoon, negotiations had suffered their worst collapse yet.

Governor Tom Wolf called a surprise press conference to draw a “line in the sand,” and put forward a revenue plan that would borrow against the state-run liquor industry for the next two decades in order to resolve last year’s shortfall.

House Republicans and Democrats bitterly blamed each other for failing to come up with their own solution, and Republicans also held Wolf responsible for jettisoning their attempts to compromise. In a speech, Wolf lambasted Republicans for refusing to throw support behind a natural gas severance tax—his preference for closing the state’s structural deficit.

The PLS Reporter’s Jason Gottesman joins us for a step-by-step breakdown of what went wrong, and helps answer Harrisburg’s new million-dollar question: where do we go from here?