Pennsylvanians began the new fiscal year Monday with a state budget, but lawmakers left unresolved many hot-button issues such as transportation funding, liquor-store privatization, Medicaid expansion and who should run the state lottery.
Although they might remain in session through July 3, Democrats representing Washington and Greene counties blamed Republicans for not extending the legislative session deeper into the summer.
State Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, who represents Peters Township and is the sole GOP legislator in the delegation, did not return a call to the Observer-Reporter Monday afternoon.
The next legislative session likely won’t begin until after Labor Day.
“Any major issue could be dealt with over the summer,” said state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane. “Unfortunately, we do not control the calendar. That’s up to the party in power, and they have not called for a special session.”
Budget votes in the state House followed party lines and, in the Senate, state Sens. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, and Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, voted against it.
“We have a budget, per se,” Solobay said Monday morning, but when he heard that Gov. Tom Corbett was holding a news conference, “We thought it would be a special session on transportation.”
That was not the case.
“I support a special session on transportation because it affects the health, safety and welfare of every resident,” Solobay said. “If they have to start closing all these bridges, we’re wasting more money in fuel, sitting in traffic. If the roadways are not in condition they should be, it’s a whole lot more important in my mind than to decide if you can buy beer in a supermarket or at a beer distributor.”
State Rep. Peter J. Daley said, “The budget itself is a document that’s independent of those other issues, liquor, lottery, transportation, but all of these issues and more are tied into that budget negotiation. They’re all moving parts to the clock. The big gear is the budget.
“We ought to stay and try to bang these issues out. I don’t understand why the governor doesn’t call a special session to keep us. All these issues need to be resolved.”
Daley, D-California, said of allowing the other cogs in the clock to remain unconnected, “That’s bad government.”
Former Gov. Ed Rendell called a special legislative session to deal with crime and other issues.
“Keep us here to get the job done,” Daley said. “That’s what we’re paid to do. Let’s do it.”
State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, said the state Senate “had the liquor bill ready to go and was waiting for a transportation bill from the House. That was the trade-off. This is one-party rule – the governor, House Republicans and Senate Republicans not being able to get on their own page.”
“They have 111 members, and they only need 102 to pass a bill. The Republicans did not bring it up for a vote, and they gave as a reason that Democrats were not going to vote for it. If you’re not willing to vote for it, why should we?,” said White. “I met with PennDOT a while back about state roads that are really deteriorating and breaking down. It’s from heavy truck traffic from the drilling industry, and not one penny goes to state roads from the impact fee.
“Increasing gas taxes is unfair. PennDOT should post or bond the roads. It’s a way of making the industry that damaged the roads pay for the damage.”
State Rep. Pam Snyder cast a vote for the first time on a state budget and voted against it, saying in a news release that it “came up short on the key issues of public education and economic development.
“The budget either reinforces failed policies or neglects to address glaring shortcomings on education, property tax relief and economic development. I could not support a budget that spends our money so unwisely.”
She also said she was left out of the budget process.
Like Solobay, who also represents Greene County, she was especially rankled by cuts to education earlier in the recession that left public schools statewide $750 million in the hole.
Eight school districts in the 50th Legislative District were confronting state cuts ranging from almost $400 per pupil in West Greene to almost $900 per pupil in Southeastern Greene. “I wish that we could have collaborated on a budget that aids education and accelerates the economic recovery rather than throwing cold water on both,” Synder said.