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OPINION

Wolf's office says it has secured House support for tax bill

MARK SCOLFORO and MARC LEVY
Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf's office said Friday that it had secured the support necessary to pass major tax legislation in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in a crucial step toward ending a state government budget stalemate in its sixth month that has crippled some social service agencies.

Wolf's press secretary Jeff Sheridan told The Associated Press on Friday morning that the office was confident that forthcoming tax legislation will pass the House and cap Wolf's quest for a record increase in public school aid and money to close a long-term budget deficit.

The details of the deal have not been made public.

Sheridan spoke shortly after the Republican floor leader of the Pennsylvania House told the AP that he planned a Saturday tax vote that is pitting House conservatives against Wolf, the Senate and Democratic lawmakers.

"We are confident that we have the votes to pass this," Sheridan said. "We look forward to this impasse coming to an end so we can move Pennsylvania forward."

The governor's office and House Democrats said a final, bipartisan tax bill had not been finalized as of Friday morning. House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said it was being written by his staff Thursday night.

If it passes, a vote on the main spending bill could follow.

Locally: Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said lawmakers will return to the House at 11 a.m. Saturday to start taking up the numerous bills that make up the budget package. They will likely have to return Sunday and maybe Monday to finish the work.

"I think we'll be in all weekend and we'll bring this (the budget impasse) to a conclusion," he said. "I think it's (the final vote count) going to be close but we'll get there."

Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, pointed out if all 84 House Democrats voted in favor of the budget deal, Wolf still needs a minimum of 18 House Republicans to cross the aisle.

"He may have that. I don't think he does," Saylor said. "We won't know until this goes down."

Saylor said he won't be one of the Republicans that will join Democrats in voting in favor. Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, a vocal critic of the planned tax increases, also said he plans to vote against.

The budget framework, the state pension system would be reformed, which Grove said would save about $180 million over two years. On the same token, a proposed tax hike is projected to net the state $2.4 billion over the same amount of time.

Grove said a tax increase is a tough pill to swallow when the state is expected to save money through pension reform.

House GOP: House Republicans leaders turned against the outlines of a budget deal they helped negotiate with Wolf and the Senate, and on Wednesday they challenged the Democratic governor to come up with enough support to get an approximately $1.2 billion tax increase through the GOP-dominated House.

Wolf and his allies spent Thursday calling and meeting with skeptical House Republicans in a bid to win them over, although they declined to name names of lawmakers who were willing to cross their leadership.

Reed, R-Indiana, declined to say how he would vote.

"We'll see how everything turns out," he said in a brief interview in the Capitol.

Wolf, the Republican-controlled Senate and House Democrats are backing a $30.8 billion spending plan — a 6 percent spending increase — and an accompanying $1 billion-plus tax plan.

The details of the tax plan were evolving Thursday. House Democrats were pressing for an increase on the personal income tax, rather than a sales tax increase preferred by some Republicans, in an effort to pick up votes in the House. Higher taxes on cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products and banks could also be part of the legislation.

Wolf has demanded a tax increase to help wipe out deep public school funding cuts made in 2011 while meeting counties' requests for an increase in social services aid and narrowing a long-term budget deficit.

However, rank-and-file House Republicans last week stiffened against the bipartisan spending and tax plan, prompting accusations by the governor's office that House GOP leaders had failed to deliver on a budget deal for the second time in a month that they themselves had helped negotiate.

Staff reporter Greg Gross contributed to this report.