Pa. House GOP Veers Away From Deal to End State Budget Stalemate

Pennsylvania House Republicans revolted Saturday against the latest plan between Gov. Tom Wolf and top lawmakers to break a five-month budget stalemate, leaving two competing plans and any resolution in doubt.

House Republicans emerged from a lengthy closed-door meeting in the Capitol to say that the majority caucus would not support a multi-faceted budget plan their leadership had helped negotiate with the Democratic governor and Senate leaders.

Instead, House Republicans said, consensus had emerged around a smaller spending plan and a smaller tax increase.

"We're trying to deliver a budget that we think we can get the votes to pass," said House GOP Policy Committee Chairman Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre.

The move set up a Sunday afternoon vote in the House Appropriations Committee, just hours before the Senate Appropriations Committee was scheduled to consider a plan that still had support from Wolf and Senate Republican majority leaders.

Neither the House nor the Senate plan had been made public Saturday night, and it was unclear whether the evolving House GOP plan had the support to pass the full chamber.

Both Wolf and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said Saturday that they remained committed to a deal that revolved around a $30.7 billion spending plan with a $350 million boost for public schools, each a 6 percent increase.

It also required a $600 million-plus tax increase, although the source of the money remained the subject of debate.

Wolf has insisted on the tax increase to deliver a record boost in aid to public schools and narrow a long-term budget deficit. As a trade-off, he had 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 or liquor outside the state-controlled system.

On Saturday afternoon, Wolf urged lawmakers to support the deal he had endorsed along with House and Senate Republican majority leaders.

"Nearly one month ago, Republican leaders agreed to a budget with me that includes the largest increase in education funding — at all levels — in the history of Pennsylvania," Wolf said in a statement. "It is long past time for the Legislature to move ahead with this agreement and end this impasse."

Corman also said the Senate was sticking to the agreement.

"We just need to keep forging forward and if we have to make tweaks here and there to get it done, we will," Corman said. "But the most important thing is getting a budget done to get schools paid, to get social services paid and get public pension reform done that takes the commonwealth out of the risk business."

House Democratic minority leaders were continuing to back Wolf, a spokesman said Saturday.

The fate of the pension and liquor legislation remained up in the air, and full details of both remained under wraps. Negotiators still were working on the wine and liquor legislation, while senators accused House members of stalling the pension legislation because they did not want it to affect their own benefits.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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