By Mark Scolforo
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP, Aug. 12) — Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders reported incremental progress after a fresh budget session Wednesday, saying they planned to reassemble to continue the discussion the next morning.
“I’m standing strong on education, and I just wanted to lay that out,” Wolf, a Democrat trying to get his first state budget through the Republican-controlled General Assembly, told reporters afterward. “We had a good conversation.”
The hour-long, closed-door meeting focused on education funding and Republican proposals to cut public-sector pensions. Participants said there was no talk of how large the budget should be — the so-called “spend” — or what taxes might be imposed.
Pennsylvania is about a month and a half into its new fiscal year without a budget in place. Republicans passed a spending plan in late June without new taxes or any Democratic votes, but Wolf vetoed it along with GOP proposals on pensions and liquor privatization.
State services have so far been generally unaffected and state workers are being paid, but billions in funding for counties and social services providers are at risk of being held up without a deal in place.
House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, described the session as dealing in broad terms, calling it “the first time I’ve seen some movement in acknowledging our perspective on those issues.”
“The governor has not moved off of his tax increases, at all, and that’s a concern,” Turzai said. “There’s just not support from the Legislature or from the public for his tax increase proposals.”
It was Wolf’s agenda to concentrate on the pension plans and education spending, said House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware.
“I asked him for some paperwork on it, get it in writing, so we can compare it with the pension plan that he vetoed,” Adolph said. “And then I need to get the spreadsheets back out and take a look at what his proposal is now on education.”
Wolf wants billions in new taxes on sales, income and natural gas drilling to close a large budget deficit and provide new support for public education and human services without relying on one-time fixes and other approaches he considers to be gimmicks.
Wolf’s budget talks with lawmakers focus on school funding, by Mark Scolforo, Associated Press, 08/12/15