Thursday, November 26, 2015

How to fill PA's budget hole

The Patriot-News offers sound ideas on filling the state budget hole without any heavy lifting.

How to fill PA's budget hole


(A brief discussion twixt Baer & Baer's editor, a/k/a BE)

JB: Yo, chief, not sure you caught it, but the Harrisburg Patriot-News is offering a way to fill the state's huge budget hole without any real heavy lifting.

BE: And by "heavy lifting" I assume you mean doing nothing on pensions, liquor reform or broad general taxes?

JB: Key-rect. The solution offered lies in smaller budget items that when taken together add up to a big number.

BE: And the numbers are?

JB: Well, the budget hole is somewhere between $1 billion and $1.6 billion, maybe higher. And The Patriot calculates we can get as much as $1.3 billion without doing any really big stuff.

(You can read the full report here. For my purposes, I'm cherry-picking ideas offered.)

BE: Okay, let's hear it.

JB: In short: $150 million from shortening the time from five years to three years during which folks can claim unclaimed assets (I mean, come on, if it's your money come and get it); $75 million from letting gas drillers drill under state forests (like they're not going to anyway); $600 million from a severance tax on gas (there really does seem to be some movement toward this); and $66.1 million from taxing candy and gum (just have to overcome the dental lobby).

BE: I assume there's more.

JB: Oh, yeah: $5 million from taxing lottery winnings of more than $600 (everybody hates lottery winners anyway); $110.5 million from freezing rather than cutting the capital stock and franchise tax on businesses; $50 million from raising the cigarette tax by 10-cents; $17 million from taxing e-cigarettes.

BE: Yeah, those things should be taxed just for being annoying. There's more?

JB: Yup: $26 million from taxing cigars and smokeless tobacco; $161 million from eliminating tax credits to all those connected developers and friends of insiders; and $68 million from allowing Internet gambling, which also saves gas cuz you can lose from home.

BE: Wow. That gets us to $1.3 billion-plus without doing any real work

JB: My point. Lots of money. Little work. Tailor-made for our Legislature.

BE: Think it'll happen?

JB: Doesn't Harrisburg always do sensible things?




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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

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