York County lawmakers respond to Wolf's compromise
Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said the deal Gov. Tom Wolf offered to Republicans on Wednesday to break the state budget impasse likely goes further than some Democrats' comfort levels.
But, he added, the counteroffer gives the GOP two things they have longed for — state liquor store changes and pension reform.
"This governor is putting on the full-court press to the deal done," he said during an interview Thursday. "The governor, in good faith, made a valid and valiant attempt to give the Republicans what they hold dear."
But Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said the Wolf proposal to put management of the stores into private hands doesn't equal much financial gain for the state.
"We need additional revenue without raising taxes," he said, adding he backs full privatization, which the Wolf proposal doesn't do.
Bristled: Leaders of the Legislature's Republican majorities bristled at what they called Wolf's rejection of their month-old offer, which included $400 million in new basic education funding — something Wolf sought in his budget proposal — to break the stalemate.
They also oppose his continued insistence on a multibillion-dollar tax increase
"Until the governor brings a serious proposal, I don't see it (a budget) getting done," Saylor said.
Schreiber said he supports the deal from Wolf, a Democrat from Mount Wolf, but the GOP must in turn agree to pass the governor's budget — including the severance tax on gas drillers and property tax relief — while also tackling the state deficit.
The offer: As a compromise, administration officials said they offered to hire a private manager to run the state's wine and liquor system.
That included the possibility of allowing sales of alcoholic beverages in supermarkets and convenience stores, as outlined by the Wolf administration.
Under the plan, the entire system would be leased from 10 to 25 years to a private entity, which would dictate the number of stores and their locations and product prices.
The stores would be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and currant staffing levels would have to be maintained, according to the governor's office.
The governor's office said that would mean additional revenue for the state, but he didn't say how much of an increase.
On pension benefits, administration officials said they had proposed a plan to save $20 billion on pension debt in the coming decades, partly by imposing a $75,000 limit on the amount of an employee's salary that would count toward the traditional pension benefit.
Salaries above that would get a 2.5 percent match in a 401(k)-style plan, they said.
Still, Wolf continued to insist on a multibillion-dollar tax increase, in part to wipe out Republican-passed funding cuts in previous years and to resolve a long-term budget deficit.
Earlier in the day, top Republican state senators briefed reporters on their talks and said that Wolf had rejected their Aug. 19 offer.
That offer included meeting Wolf's demand to boost state aid to public schools in exchange for Wolf supporting a Republican measure to replace the traditional benefit in Pennsylvania's major public pension systems with a 401(k)-style plan.
No details: Some York County lawmakers said they can't comment on the proposal because they haven't received enough details.
"I have not received the governor's proposal yet and I don't want to comment on something I haven't seen," said Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, Thursday morning.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, also said he hadn't received any information apart from what he read in the press.
"It might be the greatest plan in the world or the worst," Grove said. "There was no communication with the House Republicans detailing anything. It was just a verbal overview. Nothing really in writing to take back and digest."
As of Thursday afternoon, Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, said she still had not received details from the administration.
"Bullet points, press conference quotes and news clips aren't enough to make a decision when it comes to major policy decisions on pension and liquor reform," she said. "I wish the governor would have provided us with more details on his proposals."
Response: However, Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Wolf said the GOP leadership in the House and Senate were given details.
The latest proposal was "very clearly explained yesterday (Wednesday) by the governor to the Republican leadership," Sheridan said.
Past governors have issued budget information to all legislators, not just party leadership, Saylor said, adding what he's seen from Wolf is a "proposal that's very vague."
As budget talks continue, the GOP is attempting to pass a stopgap measure to provide funding to cash-strapped schools and social-service organizations.
The $11 billion stopgap bill would deliver four months of money, retroactive to July 1.
It passed the Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote Wednesday, and Senate passage was expected later this week. House action is expected next week.
Wolf said he'd veto it, and Sheridan said the stopgap was just a ploy by the GOP.
Its a "waste of time on another political stunt," Sheridan said. "They're not interested in negotiating with the governor."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
— Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.