State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Budget watch: Where things stand

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jun 29, 2013 2:14 PM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf


Suffering from whiplash as you try to keep up with end-of-session developments? Or perhaps you’ve gone cross-eyed? Either way, here’s a state budget sitrep: the plain English, the process, and any political scheming in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Transportation funding

Plain English: A smaller funding plan than was passed by the Senate is now before the House, where support is rocky on both sides of the aisle.

The process: An amended $2 billion plan to fund roads, bridges, and mass transit has cleared the House Transportation Committee. The full House is expected to hear amendments and floor debate on the proposal Saturday afternoon.

Political intrigue: Several Republicans are unwilling to vote for the plan, as it includes tax changes that would likely amount to higher gas prices. Many Democrats say the plan doesn’t include enough money for mass transit. Democratic votes will be crucial for passage, so they’ll need to be appeased – but any changes must be finessed without hemorrhaging more Republican support.

Alcohol sales/Liquor privatization

Plain English: Legislation that moves toward privatizing the state’s wine & liquor system is one step closer to passing the Senate, although its chances of survival in the House are still unclear.

The process: An amended proposal to expand alcohol sales passed a preliminary vote in the full Senate in the wee hours Saturday morning. Now, we wait for a fiscal analysis of the plan and a final vote in the full Senate. But the House still has to sign off on the bill, and it’s not clear if GOP leaders support the array of compromises Republican senators made on their way to finding 27 votes.

Political intrigue: At the end of a week of lengthy closed-door caucus meetings, key Senate Republicans cast their votes in favor of an alcohol sales overhaul in an effort to make the House more amenable to a transportation funding plan. Liquor privatization, an earlier reincarnation of the Senate’s alcohol sales plan, is a top priority for the House GOP. Transportation infrastructure, meanwhile, is a key issue for Senate Republicans.

Pension overhaul

Plain English: Gov. Corbett’s ambition to revamp the state’s public worker pension system isn’t dead – but it is on ice.

The process: A scaled-back pension overhaul plan has been sitting in a Senate committee for over a week. Lawmakers say the effort is being abandoned until fall.

“It’s clear that majority of the voting members in the building are not prepared to do a pension vote on or before June 30,” said Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster), sponsor of a pension overhaul proposal. His remarks came Friday evening.

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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

Budget

Plain English: The budget hasn’t progressed, but it isn’t stalled – closed-door negotiations continue between legislative leaders and the Corbett administration. The budget bill is still seen as the least politically difficult task before lawmakers.

The process: A $28.3 billion budget is poised for a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, after which it will need full Senate approval and a concurrence vote in the House. Senators say they hope to find some additional funding for distressed school districts, though they’re not committing to any figures yet. Much of the closed-door discussion seems to be centered on tax policy – changing what comes into the state’s coffers. There’s talk of keeping a business tax from disappearing next year, as was previously planned, in order to have a bit more revenue for the next two fiscal years. As many legislators are fond of saying, they have a constitutional duty to pass a state budget is by the end of the fiscal year, or by midnight June 30. 

“It’s getting late,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre). “This should be done by now, but it’s not, and it’s frustrating.”

Medicaid expansion

Plain English: Medicaid expansion has cleared a major hurdle in the Senate, but it now goes to a far less supportive House, and its very existence may threaten the timely passage of a state budget.

The process: Legislation to compel the governor to accept a Medicaid expansion as authorized by the federal Affordable Care Act passed a key Senate committee. It will likely pass the full Senate, after another panel vote. Its fate in the House is less clear. The Medicaid expansion was written into an omnibus bill that includes key budget-related legislation as well as other proposals that have support from Republicans and Democrats.

Political intrigue: The House GOP is threatening to pull support for the state budget bill if Medicaid language isn’t stripped from the omnibus bill that comes out of the Senate. They oppose Medicaid expansion, saying it will saddle the commonwealth with multi-million dollar costs. Gov. Corbett has said he wants to see reforms to the program before he commits to expanding it in Pennsylvania.

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