Top state lawmakers are at a loss for a way to end Pennsylvania’s nearly six-month budget stalemate after a tentative agreement was blown to bits over the weekend.
“We’re negotiating it right now,” said House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, emerging from a closed-door meeting between top House and Senate Republicans Sunday afternoon. Adolph was the only House GOP leader who responded to reporters’ questions. Speaker Mike Turzai declined to comment. Majority Leader Dave Reed was not in attendance.
House Republicans had said earlier in the weekend that they would ready a short-term spending bill, after efforts to pass a full year’s budget were dealt a major blow during a Saturday voting session.
A proposal to overhaul public pension benefits failed in the House, scoring less than half of the House Republican majority and zero Democratic votes.
The plan had the governor’s blessing and was expected to have the Senate’s approval, even with the House’s changes. But Democrats had always been against the pension bill, and House Republicans began to see it as a precursor to a tax vote. Governor Tom Wolf’s office had announced on Friday that it had enough House support to pass a tax increase proposal to support an agreed-to $30.8 billion spending plan and bring an end to the state budget impasse.
The pension plan was considered a key piece of a budget deal that has eluded top lawmakers and the governor since July. In the wake of the bill’s defeat, it’s not clear how the Legislature will move to get state aid flowing again to schools, local governments, and social services that are having trouble staying open.
The House’s plan to prepare a short-term budget does not have support from the Senate or Governor Wolf. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman has said he wants to pass a full year’s budget. He emerged from the leadership meeting Sunday evening reluctant to comment on the House’s next steps.
“They’ve got to pass something before we can react to it,” Corman said. “Let’s see if they can pass something.”