Demonstrators call on Pa. House members to complete budget work

 Protesters chant outside Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai's office door. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

Protesters chant outside Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai's office door. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

Pennsylvania has had an unbalanced budget for nearly a month, and activist groups around the commonwealth say Gov. Tom Wolf may soon have to freeze spending as a result.

A few dozen demonstrators from the left-leaning Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and the SEIU Local 668 union took over the Capitol Rotunda Monday afternoon and focused much of their dismay on GOP House Speaker Mike Turzai.

The budget awaits House action, and Turzai has the power to end his chamber’s indefinite recess.

Though Turzai was out of the office at the time, protesters banged on his door and asked a secretary to relay their message.

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“I have no assurances from anyone that we can fix this unless there’s willingness on all sides to come to an agreement and compromise,” said Marc Stier, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center director.

House members are deliberating how to best fill a $2 billion gap in the spending plan they passed in June. They say they won’t agree to a plan already passed by the Senate.

State Treasurer Joe Torsella has said the situation is bad enough to warrant a spending freeze in the near future.

Stier said he’s concerned about two spending areas in particular.

“You can’t cut Medicaid without losing federal funds, you can’t open the doors to the prisons,” he said. “You can stop funding human services, you can cut funding to education. Those are the places that always get hurt, and that’s what we’re afraid of — they’re going to get hurt again.”

Wolf has asked the House to take note of Torsella’s warnings.

The governor “urges the House to return and to complete and fully fund the budget that they overwhelmingly passed at the end of June,” a spokesman said.

House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin, who called the protest “utterly silly,” said lawmakers are working hard on a compromise behind the scenes.

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