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It’s All about the Numbers

As a lobbyist in Pennsylvania you learn early in your career the importance of numbers, especially the numbers 26, 102 and one. Those numbers represent the minimum number of votes necessary to pass legislation in the Senate and House respectively, and one represents the governor who either vetoes a bill or signs it into law.

Counting votes is what a lobbyist does and counting to 102, 26 and one should be easy, but, in reality, it is far more difficult than most people realize in the political arena.

In the lobbying world you need all three of these magic numbers. For example, 102 and 26 without the one doesn’t work. Just ask Republican leaders in the Legislature how important the number one is. Last July, Republicans passed a 2015-16 fiscal budget only to have Governor Tom Wolf veto the spending plan. Twenty-six and one without the 102 doesn’t work either. (Wolf and the Senate agreed to a so-called “budget framework deal” without House support).

So what does this all mean?

Well, right now, it doesn’t mean much except the fact that the Republican-controlled Legislature has been unable to produce a spending plan that Wolf fully supports.

At the heart of this budget impasse is one of the most basic politically-charged ideological disputes out there. It is fiscal conservatism – with a touch of government reform – versus increased taxes to support increased government spending. Both sides spin this a little differently, but when you look at the big picture, neither side is completely wrong or right.

After four years of no new taxes (outside of a gas tax) and budget cuts by the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania needs new tax revenue to offset ever-increasing costs related to public pensions, social service programs and our prison system. But how much new revenue is needed is only part of this complex issue. Members of the Legislature insist that their support of any new revenue must be packaged with fundamental changes in our public pension systems, local property taxes and our state-controlled liquor system. Whether they would settle for one of these reforms without the other two remains to be seen.

Now toss February 9, 2016 into the numerical mix.

That’s the day Wolf unveils his 2016-17 fiscal budget. It’s one of the most anticipated budget presentations in recent years and for good reason. Everyone is eager to learn whether Wolf will remain committed to the agenda he outlined one year ago or take a more moderate approach  and acknowledge the Legislature’s priorities. Few believe it will be the latter.

The year 2015 will undoubtedly be remembered as the most politically contentious budget impasse in our state’s history –  one where the numbers just didn’t add up.

It may be too early to tell,  but it doesn’t look like the math for the state’s 2016-17 budget will be much different and that’s definitely a minus not a plus for Pennsylvania.

Dennis Walsh is a dynamic force in Pennsylvania politics with a comprehensive understanding of public affairs and a vast network of contacts among key policymakers within Pennsylvania. Recognized by his peers as one of Harrisburg’s most effective lobbyists, Dennis has achieved a number of successes for a wide range of clients—from education to healthcare to technology and public utilities.