House GOP OKs borrowing, no-new-taxes plan to plug deficit

Up against an unprecedented cash crunch, Republicans who control Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives late Wednesday night approved a no-new-taxes borrowing package to help plug the state government’s $2.2 billion budget gap.

In addition to a $1 billion loan, the House GOP’s package would siphon cash from off-budget programs, including accounts for mass transit, environmental protection and economic development.

“We can either tax our constituents, or we can use the money we already have,” one supporter, Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin, told colleagues during Wednesday night’s debate.

The plan passed, 103-91, garnering one more vote than the 102 it needed to pass. Still, it is a small, if uncertain, step toward resolving Pennsylvania’s budget stalemate, now in its third month.

It is opposed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who says it fails to solve the state’s underlying fiscal problems, and it faces pushback from the Senate’s Republican majority, which helped pass a $500 million-plus tax package in July to fully fund a $32 billion spending agreement approved overwhelmingly by both chambers.

Every Democratic lawmaker opposed it, as did 15 Republicans, mostly moderates from southeastern Pennsylvania.

Critics said it uses deeply flawed assumptions, poses cutbacks in mass transit services and plunders money for popular causes, such as municipal recycling programs.

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