End of Pa. budget impasse may be near

Greg Gross

The monthslong state budget impasse may soon come to an end after a sect of House Republicans broke party ties Tuesday to move a spending package one step from the governor's desk.

In a narrow 100-97 vote, Democrats and moderate Republicans upended House GOP majority leaders to sent the bipartisan $30.8 billion spending bill over a key procedural hurdle. A final vote, the last step before the budget reaches Gov. Tom Wolf's desk, is expected Wednesday, York County lawmakers said.

"Tomorrow is going to be D-Day," Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said Tuesday.

About 20 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote to put the budget bill up for a final vote.

York County's Republican delegation to the House all voted against the action on Tuesday. York's lone Democrat in the House, Kevin Schreiber, of York City, voted in favor.

There were numerous occasions in the past when it appeared the impasse was coming to an end, but lawmakers say the latest developments are very promising.

"It's at least a really good sign the votes are there," Schreiber said. "I'm certainly more optimistic than I've ever been."

Close by not over: The spending bill has already passed the Republican-controlled Senate. Wolf, the Democrat from Mount Wolf, supports it as part of a wider budget package that has been hung up by House GOP opposition since the outlines of a bipartisan deal were announced six weeks ago.

“We still have a ways to go, but this was a nice step in the right direction,” Wolf said. “So we’ll see what happens tomorrow, and I’m hoping that we continue the progress.”

The spending bill narrowly survived a series of procedural votes. In one vote, it passed 100-99. Tuesday’s last vote, 100-97, sent it onward to the possibility of a final floor vote Wednesday. The parliamentary maneuvers also defeated the House GOP leadership’s effort to pass a short-term emergency spending plan that Wolf had threatened to veto.

There are 119 Republicans in the House, making it the largest majority since the Pennsylvania Constitution was amended in 1967 to set the number of House seats at 203. A small number, largely from southeastern Pennsylvania, broke ranks to join 83 Democrats.

Concerns: Though Grove has been a vocal critic of the tax increase that comes with the budget, he believes the votes needed to send the budget to Wolf are there.

"I think that spending plan's going to the governor's desk," he said. "How you pay for it, I have no idea."

Grove said he still hasn't seen the documents on how the state will fund the budget, which includes a 6 percent spending increase and a $1 billion-plus tax hike.

"I don't think anybody seems to care about revenue," he said, adding he has more questions about the budget than answers.

The tax legislation has not been introduced in or passed either chamber, and it remains unclear what, exactly, it would include.

Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, said she's concerned about a spending bill being voted on without seeing a tax bill. She added it's against the state constitution for a governor to sign a spending bill if there isn't a corresponding funding bill.

"It seems backwards to vote on a spending bill then a revenue bill," she said. "How can you vote on a spending bill if we don't have a revenue bill?"

Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said the tax bill associated with the budget bill will likely be voted on in January.

Wolf had sought the money to reverse post-recession cuts to public schools and human services and to narrow a long-term budget deficit.

There are also lingering issues stemming from the budget deal framework struck to end the impasse.

On Saturday, conservatives helped defeat pension legislation that Senate Republican leaders had tied to their support for the tax and spending package. Along with the pension legislation, other major elements of the bipartisan budget deal, such as liquor store reform, remain in limbo.

Those issues will also likely be taken up in the first weeks of 2016, Saylor said.

"I'm guessing pension and liquor are still floating around out there as side issues," Schreiber said. "I think they'll continue to be issues."

Long road: The impasse started in early July after Wolf vetoed the GOP-crafted  $30.2 billion budget.

Since then, numerous nonprofit organizations in York County have had to turn to creditors to keep their doors open as state and federal dollars dried up and were left in limbo in Harrisburg.

In October, York County was forced to open a $20 million line of credit to keep afloat. It is expected to exhaust that credit by year's end because even if a budget is signed within the next few days, it will likely take weeks for funding to make its way down Interstate 83 to York.

School districts across the state, and at least one charter school in York City, also had to take out loans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.