HARRISBURG — “What we’re doing is probably the last rabbit in the hat,” state Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams, said Monday afternoon.
The magic act to which Moul is referring is a balanced budget without borrowing and without tax increases.
He says he and a handful of fellow conservative Republicans can make money appear out of thin air; enough, they say, to put the 2017-18 spending plan to bed.
No sleight of hand, no illusion; Moul says he and his cohorts pored over pots of money, funds and idle accounts and discovered the state’s sitting on billions of dollars. He refused to release specifics but promised to in the very near future.
“Why would you go borrow the money and pay interest on money and raise taxes if you have taxpayer money sitting right there?” Moul asked.
The Senate passed a $32 billion revenue plan that included borrowing, an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale drillers and a tax on utility bills and cellphones. Moul says it has no home in the House.
“Some people say the Senate budget was DOA, dead on arrival. I say it was DBA, dead before arrival,” he said. “It was dead before it even got out of there.”
Skeptics steal a line from the movie “Jerry Maguire” and say, “show me the money.” They insist that all of those pots of money that Moul and his friends want to raid are protected, and the money is raised from a specific source and must be spent on a specific project, not the whims of the Legislature.
Senate Republican leadership is also not happy at the budget brinksmanship. They put up a tough tax vote and zigged. They don’t appreciate that House Republicans are now zagging.
“Are there savings to be had?” asked Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson. “Absolutely, but you don’t start talking about this stuff in August. You have to be doing something when we’re in legislative session doing policy changes, and that’s my real complaint. You can’t just govern on these sound bites about saving billions of dollars.”
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Both chambers agreed overwhelmingly to the spending plan and now are failing to agree on how to fund it.
“Did you vote for the $32 billion budget?” Moul is asked.
“I’m gonna confess and say yes, I did, but I thought we had the revenues in place,” Moul said. That’s why he then spearheaded a deep dive, with several others, into the budget and possible pots of money that can be raided.
“I felt responsible, so I’m gonna go in there until I figure this out, and I think we figured it out,” he said, again refusing to release specifics yet on where the treasure is buried.
Moul is a rank-and-file member who says he and several colleagues are tired of repeatedly waiting for the handful of legislative leaders to come up with a budget deal.
“My constituents deserve somebody who’s willing to stick with it until we get it resolved,” Moul said. “They didn’t hire a bench warmer. They want somebody in the game. I’m in the game.”
He promises new rules to the game moving forward; chief among them: don’t agree to a spend number without knowing how it’s being funded.
“Those days are gone,” he said. “We learned our lesson. It’s not gonna happen again.”
Moul and his budget hawks are expected to lay out their budget plan for House leadership Tuesday and Wednesday and hope to take it public by the end of the week.