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Last day arrives for Gov. Wolf to act on $32B spending bill

Written by Marc Levy, The Associated Press | Jul 10, 2017 9:39 AM
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(Harrisburg) -- It looked increasingly unlikely Monday that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will have funding legislation on his desk before he must decide on a nearly $32 billion spending bill.

At midnight, the spending bill becomes law without Wolf's signature. Before then, Wolf can sign it, veto it or strike out some of the spending. Monday was the 10th day of a budget stalemate between Wolf and leaders of the House and Senate Republican majorities, and none reported progress after Wolf rejected a GOP offer on Sunday afternoon.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said late Sunday that the sides were about $200 million apart on a roughly $2.2 billion revenue package to resolve the state's largest shortfall since the recession and a projected deficit in the fiscal year that began July 1.

The package will lean heavily on borrowing and involves another big expansion of casino gambling in the nation's No. 2 commercial casino state.

Friction revolved around Wolf's insistence that lawmakers produce $700 million to $800 million in reliable revenue, such as tax increases, to help the state avoid another downgrade to its battered credit rating. Republicans, however, have been unwilling to agree to that.

Corman said tax increases under discussion involved cable TV, movies, bank profits, telephone service and electric service.

Wolf has pushed Republicans to agree to a production tax on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Pennsylvania, the nation's No. 2 natural gas state, is the only large natural-gas-producing state that does not tax the product. However, top Republican lawmakers have rejected that.

The fiscal year began July 1. Without a signed budget plan in place, the state has lost some of its spending authority, though the Wolf administration has said it anticipated no program or service interruptions, at least through Monday night.

For the second straight year, the Legislature sent an on-time, bipartisan spending bill to Wolf, but with no plan to pay for parts of it.

Last year, Wolf let the plan become law without his signature when the 10-day signing period expired -- despite questions about whether the move was constitutional -- and lawmakers delivered a $1.3 billion funding package three days later.

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