It’s shaping up to be a longer-than-usual work calendar for Pennsylvania lawmakers negotiating the commonwealth’s budget.
House and Senate Republican leaders aren’t expecting to meet the state constitution’s end-of-June budget deadline.
“It’s unlikely that we will finish our work by June 30,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said he told his caucus’s members. “Certainly be prepared for at least the first week in July.”
When pressed for more details (for example: just how far should lawmakers and staff push back holiday plans?), Pileggi was reticent.
“I haven’t gotten to that level of specificity,” he said. “There’s a still a chance we could finish our work by June 30 but I think we need to be prepared for the possibility and at this point likelihood that we will not be finished by June 30.”
House lawmakers got the same line from the chamber’s Republican Majority Leader Mike Turzai.
“Our goal is still a June 30 budget,” said spokesman Steve Miskin. But no one’s wildly optimistic. “Definitely be prepared,” he said.
The trick this year is not that lawmakers face one tough vote, but several, and Gov. Tom Corbett is trying to push them on all fronts. The Independent Fiscal Office has pegged the revenue shortfall at $1.4 billion for the current and next fiscal years. The gap imperils education spending increases proposed by Corbett and supported by many lawmakers.
But filling the gap will require new revenues – higher taxes or completely new levies. The governor said last week that before he’ll consider any new revenues, he’ll insist that lawmakers pass a public pension overhaul and vote for changes to how alcohol is sold in Pennsylvania.
The votes aren’t there yet for either proposal.
All budget negotiations continue to be behind closed doors. Rank-and-file members still haven’t seen a draft of a spending plan since talks first kicked off with a “bare-bones” scenario that included no new revenues. In the Senate GOP, there are no firm dates for circulating a proposed budget that reflects the discussions of legislative leaders and the governor’s office.
“I think by the beginning of next week we should be looking at a line-by-line spending plan,” said Pileggi.