HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — Gov. Tom Wolf says he’s not giving up, again calling on state lawmakers to enact his plan to send scores of Pennsylvanians a check for $2,000.
As KDKA political editor Jon Delano explains, it’s a plan some Republicans are calling a political, inflationary stunt.
Last February, Wolf said all households with a combined income of $80,000 or less should receive a one-time check of up to $2,000. The Republican-controlled legislature ignored that request, so the governor is trying again.
“We’ve tried this once before, and we’re trying it again because this is what Pennsylvanians really need and want,” Wolf said Tuesday at a press conference.
Wolf, a Democrat, is calling on Republican lawmakers to pass his Opportunity Program that would help tens of thousands of individuals and families get extra help.
“Times are really tough for too many people right now. Prices are going up. Inflation is a problem. Paychecks just aren’t stretching as far as they used to,” the governor said.
Republicans opposed the previous version because it took money from unspent federal COVID relief funds. Wolf is now proposing to use the state’s unspent excess funds.
“We now have $5 billion in our rainy day fund and on top of that we have left over $5 billion, $5-6 billion, in an ending balance,” he says.
Wolf estimates that a quarter of a million Pennsylvania households would qualify for $2,000 checks, which would cost about half a billion dollars of the $10 billion to $12 billion the state is sitting on.
“It’s a political stunt, and it’s an election year, and there are a lot of political stunts being played out across the country for parties that aren’t doing so well,” said Pennsylvania Senator Camera Bartolotta, a Republican. of Washington County.
One shot, Bartolotta says, and it’s inflationary, saying it’s like the federal stimulus checks families received under Presidents Biden and Trump that some blame for today’s inflation.
But Democrats like Pennsylvania Rep. Emily Kinkead say that money is needed now.
“Just sitting on money that could be used to help people is, I think, irresponsible,” Kinkead says.
Wolf says people are hurting and the state has the money.
“We have the funds to make this investment in the people of Pennsylvania, and we have this money right now. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is in a very, very strong financial position,” Wolf said.
In addition to the $5 billion rainy day fund, Wolf estimates another $5 billion to $6 billion surplus in the recently passed budget. His $2,000 check plan would cost around half a billion dollars.
But some Republicans like Bartolotta worry that a recession is on the way and now is not the time to pass.
“We can see down the road,” she said. “If we spend like Governor Wolf wanted to spend, we’ll see a $13 billion deficit in the years to come.”
Bartolotta opposes the idea of the $2,000 check, as does Pennsylvania Rep. Lori Mizgorski, a Shaler Republican. Mizgorski says she would prefer to see the money invested in expanding programs that help those in need.
“Instead of just handing out checks to specific people within a certain income threshold, it would be better to earmark additional funds for programs,” says Mizgorski.
She cites child care, low-income energy assistance and property tax refunds as programs for that money.
But Kinkead, a Democrat from Pittsburgh, says it’s better to just give taxpayers’ money back, a position, Kinkead says, that Republicans typically take.
“Now they literally have the ability to put taxpayers’ money where their mouth is to say, ‘Okay, let’s give the taxpayers the opportunity to spend their money, rather than the government’, and now they don’t want to not do it,” notes Kinkead.
Since Republicans still control both the Senate and the state House, their support is needed to get Wolf’s proposal through, no one thinks that’s likely to happen.