PA’s latest revenue numbers bad news for budget

By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

Pennsylvania’s accountants better hope most people are waiting to file their taxes.

A long line at the post office April 15 would proably be a welcome sight for the state’s bean counters, who found the important March revenue numbers disappointing, even after the state gobbled up an $80 million payment from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, months earlier than planned.

SCROUNGING FOR CHANGE: Pennsylvania’s March revenues were down by more than $20 million, but the budget picture would have been even worse had it not been for an accounting trick.

Pennsylvania pulled in $4.2 billion in general fund revenue last month, $20.7 million less than anticipated, according to Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser. That puts the state $96.3 million — or half a percent — below the fiscal year-to-date estimate.

The infusion of money from the state-owned liquor stores, though, “disguises the fiscal realty,” Meuser said in a statement.

“Considering the timing issue behind the liquor store profits, we’re really about $100 million short for the month and $176 million under for the fiscal year,” Meuser said.

Ben Waxman, press secretary for state Sen. Vincent Hughes, Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, choose blunter words. He called the infusion of liquor store profits — planned to occur in June — “an accounting trick to hide the very serious nature of Pennsylvania’s budget problems.”

While April follows March as the biggest months for revenue collection, it’s uncertain whether this month’s cash intake will be enough to eliminate the shortfall, said state Rep. Joe Markosek, the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

It could also indicate that Gov. Tom Corbett will have budget problems next year, Markosek said in a statement.

“That means the governor’s 2014-15 budget proposal could be out of balance by hundreds of millions of dollars, in addition to the $1.2 billion in unsustainable and unpredictable funding sources,” Markosek said.

Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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