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Saylor: '50-50 chance' budget in place by deadline

Staff and wire reports

HARRISBURG — A top Republican state senator says it’s looking more like Pennsylvania’s budget package won’t be finished by the start of the new fiscal year in two days as lawmakers grapple with the state’s biggest cash shortfall since the recession.

FILE - This Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, file photo shows the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Wednesday that the only agreement between House GOP leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is on a spending figure, a number around $31.9 billion. That’s about $600 million more than this year’s budget figure, including money necessary to balance this year’s books.

House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, guessed that there was a 50-50 chance an agreement would be in place by Friday, but he added that legislators would be in Harrisburg at least until Friday finalizing everything.

Serving his first year as head of the House Appropriations Committee, Saylor said it's important for him to "do right by the taxpayers," eliminating the structural deficit without raising taxes.

Saylor and House Republicans passed their appropriations bill — calling for a nearly $246 million decrease in spending — in early April, and Saylor said Wednesday that he finds it "absurd" that legislators are in the position of trying to negotiate a last-minute deal.

Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, said he doesn't know what's going on with the budget.

"The appropriations process is almost a joke," he said.

Wagner is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and he said Wolf and House and Senate leadership bury so many hidden costs in budget proposals that it's impossible to know exactly where all the money is going.

In the midst of a campaign for governor in 2018, Wagner said he's a proponent for zero-based budgeting, a process by which each department would start at zero and have to justify every expense for the fiscal year.

Corman said the Senate is trying to address concerns about cuts to spending approved by House Republicans, including to county social services. However, Corman said there’s no agreement on how to come up with about $2.2 billion necessary to foot the bill.

— Staff reporter David Weissman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.