Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
There will be plenty of disputes are expected in the coming months as the state budget takes center stage in the Capitol. But the size of the expected deficit in next year's budget isn't one of them.
Late last year, the Corbett administration reported a looming $1.2 to 1.4 billion dollar state budget gap expected for the 2014-2015 fiscal year beginning in July.
Vincent Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, wasn't convinced. A month prior, the Independent Fiscal Office had reported an $839 million anticipated deficit.
"The administration has over the last several years, and we've been public about this, has not necessarily been as accurate as they should be with respect to budget projections and what the numbers are, what the deficit is, and that kind of thing," Hughes said Tuesday.
The discrepancy of a several hundred million dollars was the difference between bad news and really bad news. State lawmakers must finalize a spending plan by the end of June. An expected deficit of any kind makes that more difficult. Hughes suggested he wouldn't quake over the Corbett administration's estimate when the reported figure by the IFO was significantly lower.
"They've been pretty accurate," said Hughes. "But we want to look at all the numbers."
Matthew Knittel, director of the IFO, said the administration did look at all the numbers. In fact, he said that's why there was a discrepancy - there was more information available to the governor's team in the month that passed between the two reported deficit figures.
"It's pretty cut and dry," Knittel said Wednesday. "We're pretty much on the same page."
By the time the administration released its deficit estimate in December, it calculated that the state would lose about $300 million in federal matching funds for Medicare payments, based on information recently announced by federal officials.
That wasn't clear in time to be incorporated into the IFO's November report - hence the significantly lower deficit estimate.
"The administration's estimate of an additional $300 million does appear to be reasonable," said Knittel, "and with that additional $300 million, our numbers would be very close."
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