Pennsylvania Deficit Watch: October 2016
Pennsylvania’s state budget is three months old and showing signs of a major budget deficit.
Actual revenue collections are already behind $218.5 million through the first quarter, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. In July, the legislature passed and Gov. Wolf signed a $1.3 billion revenue package, which includes $650 million in higher taxes, to help pay for a $1.6 billion increase in government spending.
The revenue assumptions built into the billion dollar package are now proving optimistic. The chart below shows revenue collections lagging official estimates in each of the first three months.
In August, the Independent Fiscal Office identified problems with certain revenue projections used to balance the budget—at least on paper. Here are their major assumptions:
- The IFO deducts $95 million to pay for the expenses of the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) from sales tax revenue. The legislature moved this line-item out of the General Fund Budget and created a new fund via the fiscal code. Legislative leaders have expressed an interest in passing gambling expansion to generate $100 million to cover CFA spending, but no enabling legislation exists.
- IFO assumes Act 39 (wine modernization) will raise $73 million in 2016-17. The legislature predicts an increase of $149 million—a $76 million difference.
- IFO projections of tobacco tax revenue (includes taxes on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, loose & roll-your-own tobacco) are approximately $38 million less than the official projections.
- $75 million from the Philadelphia casino is not included in the IFO’s official revenue estimate. They do not expect it will generate revenue for the current fiscal year.
Moreover, the budget was unbalanced from the start. The budget counts on $260 million in one-time revenue and transfers from other funds, and a $200 million loan from the Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association.
Borrowing money to pay our bills is the very definition of unbalanced.
If current revenue trends continue, lawmakers and the governor will need to focus on reducing government spending to balance the budget. Such as,
- Cutting back on $800 million in arbitrary corporate welfare,
- Immediately imposing a (real) hiring freeze and travel ban, and
- Reviewing funds outside the General Fund budget for savings.
As the fiscal year progresses, and more revenue collections are announced, we will continue to update our Deficit Watch.