Wolf won't endorse Pa. House budget plan, says it's not balanced

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday he is concerned about budget legislation that is primed for a vote in the House of Representatives, but said there is still time to fix it before the state embarks on a new fiscal year.

Wolf said that he could not endorse a plan that he said is out of balance, and hoped the Senate will fix its flaws, should it pass the House.

"I haven't agreed to this and as far as I can tell there's still some things that need to be worked out," Wolf said during a regularly scheduled appearance on KQV-AM radio in Pittsburgh.

The state's 2016-17 fiscal year starts Friday.

The nearly $31.6 billion spending plan was poised for a vote in the Republican-controlled House on Tuesday after getting bipartisan support in a committee vote late Monday night. It would increase overall spending by 5 percent and K-12 public school spending by $200 million, or about 3 percent. Wolf had sought $250 million more for schools and $34 million more to bolster heroin addiction treatment programs.

The House plan is to include a package of yet-to-be-unveiled tax increases on tobacco products. But Wolf said the House plan does not carry enough revenue to balance a deficit that the Legislature's Independent Fiscal Office has projected to hit $1.8 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

However, Wolf did not say what he would support as an alternative, and the Senate's Republican majority has not proposed an alternative tax plan.

In addition to new tobacco taxes, the House's plan to balance the budget includes tax and fee revenue from pending legislation that would make Pennsylvania the fourth state to allow casino-style gambling online.

Efforts to pass a budget ahead of the new fiscal year's start follow a record-breaking partisan budget stalemate in Wolf's first budget year, a deadlock that was not fully resolved until April.

In any case, House Republicans have already squeezed significant concessions from Wolf, who in February proposed a $33.3 billion spending plan -- a 10 percent increase -- backed by a $2.7 billion tax plan that also called for higher taxes on income, sales and Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

That had included a proposal to raise the per-pack cigarette tax to $2.60, from $1.60, and to extend a 40 percent wholesale tax to sales of larger cigars, loose tobacco, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes. Those products are currently untaxed by Pennsylvania.