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Pa. House GOP tries to resolve standoff with own budget

STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania House Republicans tried again to solve the state’s 5-month-old budget stalemate with a spending plan of their own on Tuesday, a day after a bipartisan Senate vote that approved a rival approach supported by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

The House voted 115-86 for a $30.3 billion general appropriations bill, saying it would be paid for with new tobacco taxes, by imposing the personal income tax on lottery winnings and by getting other revenue from Internet gambling. Wolf and other supporters of the $30.8 billion, Senate-passed budget have not worked out how they’d pay for it.

Four GOP lawmakers crossed the aisle to vote against the measure. All York County Republicans in the House voted in favor, and Democrat Kevin Schreiber voted against.

The bill’s passage represented the second time in the past month that a proposed budget deal between Wolf and the Legislature’s Republican majorities has collapsed.

Spending: The House GOP version calls for a 3.7 percent, or $1.1 billion, increase in spending over the previous fiscal year's budget, said Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township.

“There’s been a lot of talk in the Capitol regarding our framework, our lofty goals,” said Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware. “But the toughest part of passing a budget in this framework is how to pay for it.”

Grove summarized the budget as a "no-win, no-lose solution" to ending the impasse.

"I think it's in line with what we can do," he said.

Democratic critics said it was very similar to a Republican budget that was vetoed by Wolf.

“As you may recall, the governor vetoed that plan because it was inadequate,” said Rep. Joe Markosek of Allegheny County, the ranking Democrat on Appropriations. “It didn’t solve the budget deficit and it didn’t go far enough to restore the cuts to education and human services.”

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the Senate would re-send the $30.8 billion budget bill it passed Monday, a spending plan that Wolf has endorsed but that House Republicans protested as being too expensive.

A key hang-up for the Senate’s budget bill is the $1.2 billion tax increase that could accompany it as part of the Senate’s deal with Wolf.

The House GOP also has not entirely explained how it would pay for its spending bill through higher taxes on tobacco products, expanding the personal income tax to lottery winnings and license fees on an undisclosed expansion of casino gambling.

Education funding: Adolph said the Republican plan would add money for K-12 education, special education, colleges, agricultural programs, long-term care, services for people with disabilities, rural hospitals and child advocacy centers.

The proposal, he said, would not harm working people or the state’s economy.

“This budget has a revenue plan that is achievable,” Adolph said. “It makes huge investments in areas that all of us care deeply about.”

Wolf, who opposes the House spending bill, has insisted on a tax increase big enough to deliver a record boost in aid to public schools and narrow a long-term budget deficit that has damaged Pennsylvania’s credit rating.

As a trade-off, he has agreed to sign legislation long-sought by Senate Republicans to scale back public pension benefits and by House Republicans to allow private businesses to sell wine outside the state-controlled system.

The Senate bill delivered $350 million in new aid for public schools, a 6 percent increase; the House Republican bill delivered $150 million.

Besides public schools, Adolph said the Republican plan would add money for special education, higher education, agricultural programs, care for the elderly, services for people with disabilities, rural hospitals and child advocacy centers.

The proposal, he said, would not harm working people or the state’s economy.

“This budget has a revenue plan that is achievable,” Adolph said. “It makes huge investments in areas that all of us care deeply about.”

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks County, one of two “no” votes for the GOP budget in June, voted for the latest plan, saying it set the stage for a spending compromise between the two total figures.

“Let’s get this budget done,” he told colleagues. “Let’s take those other issues off the table, pensions and liquor, and let’s concentrate on getting this budget done and getting out of town and getting the money out to our school districts and getting the money to our counties.”

Schreiber, D-York City, said the plan that passed the House could be the monkey wrench in the gears that is the negotiated deal GOP Legislative leadership has with Wolf.

"This is what divided government looks like," he said. "Negotiations are ugly."

Along with the negotiated budget, the Senate on Monday also approved widespread changes to the two large public-sector pension plans, designed to decrease the state’s risk from stock market downturns. Senate leaders said they also plan to vote this week on changes to Pennsylvania’s system of state-owned liquor stores.