Wolf: GOP leaders blocking a sound budget agreement
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf attacked the Legislature's Republican majority leaders on Tuesday as "the only thing standing between us and a real budget" as a state government stalemate nears its fourth month and he prepares to veto a GOP-engineered short-term spending plan.
The first-term Democrat defended his planned veto and his stance in negotiations as seeking a sound, long-term fiscal path versus a series of flawed, Washington, D.C.-style short-term fixes. The stoppage of state aid has resulted in layoffs and huge borrowing costs as school districts, counties and nonprofit social services organizations search for ways to scrape by.
"I think the only thing standing between us and a real budget are Republican leaders," Wolf said Tuesday during a regularly scheduled appearance on Pittsburgh radio station KDKA-AM. "There are many Republican members who don't want to have Washington be imported into Harrisburg. They want us to get a real budget, they want us to pay our bills, and they want to invest in the things we have to invest in."
On Friday, Republican leaders said for the first time that they would allow a floor vote on a budget package that includes an income or sales tax increase if Democrats can secure enough support to pass it.
Face-to-face talks between Wolf and top Republican lawmakers ended Monday afternoon without any breakthroughs but were expected to continue Tuesday.
Wolf has sought a multibillion-dollar tax increase that he says is necessary to wipe out the GOP's funding cuts for schools and human services enacted under his Republican predecessor, Tom Corbett, and to eliminate a long-term budget deficit. He also wants measures to cut residential school property taxes and impose a severance tax on the natural gas industry similar to one imposed by other major gas-producing states.
"I don't think that's too much to ask, because if we don't get those things we're not going to have a state worth living in," Wolf said Tuesday.
Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said people can't afford the tax increases that Wolf wants. Wolf has rejected the Republicans' reasonable and responsible spending plans so that he can hold schools and social services hostage in budget negotiations, Miskin said.
"He's not a person who is working to compromise," he said. "He just wants everybody to agree with him and not everybody does."
Republican leaders have not agreed to a budget plan that includes any sort of tax increase. Instead, they have pressed Wolf to overhaul benefits in the state's two big public employee pension systems and to privatize the state-controlled wine and liquor store system.
Wolf insists he offered "historic" compromise proposals on both pension benefits and the wine and liquor store system earlier this month. Republicans have criticized both proposals as not far-reaching enough.
"I'm willing to compromise," Wolf said Tuesday. "I understand we have divided government. What I don't understand is people who don't want to govern at all."
He went on to say that he "cannot concede to people who just want to blow things up" and characterized the stalemate as a contest over "whether we want to govern ourselves or not."
Wolf reaffirmed that he plans to veto a short-term spending bill approved earlier this month by GOP majorities in the House and Senate and delivered to his office late in the day Monday. The $11 billion proposal would cover government costs incurred between July 1 and Nov. 1 and release billions in federal dollars.