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Budget talks start despite charges of stunts, gamesmanship

In 2003, the General Assembly took a record eight days to pass the bare bones stopgap budget proposed by newly elected Governor Ed Rendell.  That action forced Rendell to veto it almost identical to what he had proposed.  This week, House Republicans set up a vote for the revenue portion of Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal, which was voted down by a 193-0 vote. 

Afterwards, House Democrats and Wolf accused the Republicans of stunts and gamesmanship, with Wolf saying, “It’s a funny way to start a conversation. I think we could do a better job of it.”

Nevertheless, House and Senate leaders met with the Governor and his staff on Tuesday to begin serious discussions, with legislators calling it a “good meeting.”  ERG was told that the talks focused on trying to set the foundation to build toward an agreement, including agreements on the costs of the current budget commitments, mandated increases, and agreement on the state’s revenue picture.  The Revenue Department reported Monday that the current state income is about $619 million ahead of estimates.

On Monday as well, Rep. Seth Grove (R, York) asked for a vote on what he described as Wolf’s $12.7 billion tax package, with an amendment he said clearing he would not support.  House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said the move was simply an attempt to embarrass Democrats and force them to vote for tax increases. 

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said Republicans pushed the issue because Democrats have said the entire plan needed consideration, rather than voting on the various parts individually.  Reed accused Democrats of living in fantasyland by proposing huge spending increases without having the revenue to pay for them. He said Grove offered the tax package because no Democrat had been willing to introduce it in the three months since Wolf unveiled it, despite promised from the Governor’s Office that the proposal would be forthcoming.

House Democrats called the votes “a political stunt,” Reed said, “it’s only a ‘yes or no’ question, you don’t get a ‘maybe’ or put contingencies on the House floor.”

House Democrats argued that HB1192, the General Appropriations Bill considered by the chamber Monday afternoon, would not have enough funding to pay for the proposed spending within the legislation, given the state’s current revenue situation and a structural deficit between $1 billion and $2 billion.