GOP leaders shoot for no-new-taxes budget
HARRISBURG – Republicans who control the Pennsylvania Legislature pressed ahead Friday with efforts to put together an all-GOP state budget plan calling for as much as $29.4 billion in spending without raising taxes.
Rank-and-file lawmakers were sent home early after a day of limited floor activity, while GOP leaders from both chambers huddled privately and staff members made plans to work into the weekend.
The House and Senate were slated to reconvene Sunday afternoon.
Monday is the last day of the current state fiscal year.
“We have details to iron out … but we’ve had a very productive meeting today,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware.
On Wednesday, House Republicans approved a $29.1 billion proposal that would increase spending for public schools, social services and state pensions, but relies partly on a projected $380 million from an unlikely sell-off of the state-controlled liquor and wine sales.
Pileggi, who briefed reporters following the leadership meeting, said he expects the final budget to exclude the privatization proposal, which the House approved last year and which GOP Gov. Tom Corbett has touted as one of his priorities.
“We talked about different approaches to identify revenues other than proceeds from selling the state store system,” he said. “We think we have a couple of ideas that might work and we’re going to flesh them out a little bit more before we make them public.”
Pileggi’s House counterpart, Rep. Mike Turzai, disagreed.
“We would like to see privatization passed,” the Allegheny County Republican said.
Corbett said he wanted changes in the state’s major public-pension funds and in the sale of alcoholic beverages before he would consider raising taxes. His spokesman said Friday night that he could not say whether his boss would sign the pending legislation.
“Until we see something, I can’t comment on whether the governor will support it or not support it,” said the spokesman, Jay Pagni.
Corbett, who faces a tough re-election battle this year, proposed a $29.4 billion budget in February, but an unexpected shortfall driven largely by sluggish revenue collections left a projected $1.7 billion hole.
To fill it, in addition to the proposed changes in alcoholic beverage sales, the House pared back Corbett’s spending plan by about $300 million and tapped hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from off-budget programs.
The Democratic minority argued that the state could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year to help cash-strapped school districts by imposing a severance tax on natural-gas drilling or joining the federal Medicaid expansion.
“Republicans shut Democrats out of their private budget talks with the governor. Now that their efforts are floundering and they are heading toward a late budget, they want to blame people who were not even in the talks,” said House Minority leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jake Corman, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the Senate is prepared to run a bill to change pension rules only for legislators, judges and elected executive-branch officials if the House does not approve a broader-ranging measure.
Leaders of the House GOP majority have struggled to line up enough votes to approve a plan that would shift future state and school employees from a traditional pension to a hybrid system that combines a regular pension with a 401(k)-style plan.