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PA Budget Official Upbeat, But Critics Differ Over Spending, Revenue Forecasts

HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) -- With six months left in the fiscal year, state lawmakers are already looking ahead to potentially difficult budget discussions.

However, disagreements have surfaced on what exactly the fiscal situation will be when the time comes.

In his annual mid-year update on the commonwealth’s fiscal position Tuesday, Budget Secretary Randy Albright gave a pretty sunny overview of the state’s higher-than-usual tax revenue for the 2017-18 year.

“Year-to-date tax collections through the end of the month of November are now 8.2 percent, or more than $900 million above the prior year collections,” he reported.

But Albright noted, there are dark spots.

He’s projecting higher-than-expected spending on human services, due largely to federally mandated costs.

He didn’t say exactly how much the overhead would be, just that it would require supplemental funding next fiscal year to cover the difference.

“It will be less than the projected surplus that we’re expecting to have at the close of the fiscal year,” he said.

The Independent Fiscal Office, meanwhile, has projected between a $1.5 and $1.7 billion deficit next year—an ominous prospect given lawmakers’ habitual deadlocks over finding more money.

Albright said he doesn’t think the gap will be that big.

GOP House Appropriations Spokesman John O’Brien said his caucus also disagrees.

“That $1.7 billion is all predicated on us enacting a budget that is $35.6 billion, which is a 10 percent increase,” he said. “There are no votes in the Republican caucus for a budget that large.”

Democratic Governor Tom Wolf will announce his official budget goals for next year in February, but Albright hinted the administration may look to charge fees for some state police coverage to overhaul infrastructure funding, among other things.

It’s a proposal that has failed multiple times at the hands of the GOP-controlled legislature, and O’Brien said his caucus has no plans to go along with anything like it this year.

“Our belief is that we’re going to live within the current revenue structure we have,” he said. “We don’t look to be raising any new taxes, we don’t look to be increasing any new fees, and as we head into negotiations next year that’s going to be our focus.”

This mid-year budget update will be Albright’s last.

In a surprise announcement at the end of his briefing, the secretary said he’s stepping down from the post. Jen Swails, who previously oversaw budgets in the state Human Services Department, will be taking his place.