The Stalemate Continues

State employees may not see paychecks if stalemate not solved soon

The Pennsylvania state Senate cast a symbolic vote Monday for a spending plan that would raise no taxes as the state's three-week-old budget stalemate showed no sign of easing and partisan tensions intensified over state employees losing pay.

No high-level talks between Gov. Ed Rendell and legislative leaders were scheduled, aides said Monday, and Republicans and Democrats accused each other of refusing to budge from hard-line positions in hopes the other side will buckle first.

State employees whose paychecks are disappearing and the jobless who have exhausted the state's 72-week benefit got sucked into the debate as the sides worked to put each other on the defensive. At times, senators traded angry retorts during five hours of debate.

The massive task of filling a multibillion-dollar budget deficit has divided Republicans and Democrats, leaving Pennsylvania as just one of three states with a late budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. The state is now deeper into the fiscal year without an enacted budget than in any other year since 1991 -- although it took until December in 2003 to finalize a public school subsidy.

Republicans, who control the Senate, unveiled the plan Monday morning and sped it through the chamber as fast as constitutionally allowed, answering a Democratic plan that passed the House on Friday.

Unsurprisingly, the bill passed, 31-19, Monday night, and returns to the House, where it is certain to be rejected by the Democratic majority that, like Rendell, has sought tax increases to support higher spending.

The GOP called its $27.1 billion bill a responsible, balanced plan that would leave taxes untouched and wipe out the deficit by drawing on reserves and slicing spending by about 3.6 percent from the just-ended fiscal year.

It does not appear to make any concessions to Democrats and, if anything, widens the gulf to $2 billion between the sides by cutting spending by more than $100 million from an earlier Senate plan that passed in May.

"It's not the time to raise taxes, people don't support it," Sen. Mike Waugh, R-York, said in floor remarks.

Only Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, crossed party lines.

"The reality is we don't have all the money to fund all the programs we would like to," she said. "Working families understand that."

But other Senate Democrats said they would not go along with a Republican plan that executes fiscal gymnastics to avoid a tax increase. It would hobble crucial services that people demand more during a recession and force counties and school districts to plug a loss in subsidies by raising taxes, they said.

"I will not vote for what appears to be a kamikaze attack on my constituents," said Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny.

Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, called the document "this joke, this sham."

The state now has no authority to pay most of its bills, and Rendell maintains that a state court ruling prevents him from paying employees without legislative authority -- a stance Republicans say is designed to turn up heat on them to give in to his budget demands.

Sen. Jane Orie, R-Allegheny, said the Rendell administration is using state employees as "political pawns." Later, Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, called Rendell "despicable," prompting shouts from Senate Democrats and an angry response from Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny.

"To resort to name calling is simply inappropriate," he interrupted.

Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, countered that Republicans are advancing a plan that would cause the layoff of 3,000 state employees. She also called out the Senate GOP for bottling up legislation that would extend unemployment benefits for about 18,000 "hostages" whose 72 weeks of benefits have expired.

The Senate's vote put the ball back in the House's court.

House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne, said Monday his caucus was still analyzing the document and could not say how House Democrats will respond.

The House's $29.1 billion bill, passed Friday, would raise the capital stock and franchise tax rate paid by businesses. But, with no agreement in the chamber on how and whether to raise taxes, it provides no way to pay for $1.3 billion in higher education subsidies.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us