- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania’s budget impasse is breaking the state’s record for futility, after the Senate sent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf a last-ditch spending bill Wednesday without the tax increase he wanted to deliver a record boost in public school aid and close a long-term deficit.

The end of the 6-month-old stalemate remained up in the air. Wolf’s office said a decision on whether to sign or veto the bill could take days.

The pared-down spending bill emerged Wednesday when it became clear that an eleventh-hour effort to revive the Senate GOP’s legislation to restructure public pension benefits had stalled in the House.

As a result, leaders of the Senate Republican majority pulled their support from a bipartisan deal with Wolf that called for $30.8 billion in spending, along with a $1 billion-plus tax increase.

Instead, Senate Republicans turned to the smaller spending plan approved two weeks ago by the House, when the chamber’s huge Republican majority revolted against the prospect of the tax increase.

Besides signing or vetoing it, Wolf has other options. He could let it become law without his signature after 10 days, or he could eliminate some of the individual spending items in it.

Pennsylvania is one of just two states - along with Illinois - still fighting over a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Wednesday tied its modern-day record for a budget impasse, set in 2003 by another first-year Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, and a Republican-controlled Legislature.

In a statement, Wolf blasted the House and Senate Republican majorities, saying they were intent on maintaining the status quo and going on vacation “instead of continuing the hard work to move Pennsylvania forward.”

He also accused Senate Republicans of caving to tea party-aligned House Republican leaders and denying critical dollars for schools.

“Change is difficult, and clearly more so given this legislature, but we must continue our fight for historic education funding that will begin to restore the cuts from five years ago, and a budget that is balanced, paid for, and fixes our deficit,” Wolf said in the statement.

Senate Republicans argued that they had been the responsible ones in the Capitol by approving a spending bill to speed money to suffering school districts and social services agencies.

“This is the only way to get a budget to the governor before Christmas, so that we can start driving out money to our schools, to our social services, which are hurting,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said during brief floor arguments.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said he would urge Wolf to veto the plan.

It includes $150 million in additional aid for public schools; the bipartisan deal backed by Wolf would have delivered $350 million, a 6 percent increase.

Numerous questions remain about the bill, including the fate of legislation to authorize hundreds of millions of dollars for universities and colleges.

House Appropriations Committee officials said the bill does not include money to reimburse school districts, counties and social services agencies for millions of dollars in borrowing costs they racked up while state aid has been held up since July 1.

Wolf did not take questions on the matter Wednesday. House Speaker Mike Turzai’s signature is required on the bill before it can go to the governor’s desk.

The Capitol emptied out Wednesday evening, closing out a two-week sprint by lawmakers to try to end the stalemate. The timetable for their return was unclear.

Passage of the bipartisan deal had seemed within reach last week, after Wolf circumvented House GOP leadership to secure enough Republican defectors to pass the spending and tax plan he supported.

House GOP leaders, however, went back on their commitment to hold a vote on the tax bill Saturday and instead put the pension legislation up for a vote.

Anti-tax groups lobbied conservatives to vote against the pension legislation as a proxy defeat of the wider spending and tax plan. Along with opposition from every House Democrat and some moderate Republicans, it went down, 149-52.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide