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Now What?? Who Controls the Cards?

Two weeks into the 2015 state budget impasse, we are reminded of a line from Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders…” “Diplomacy was like a card game. The difference was that you never really knew the value of the cards in your own hand.” 

This week, Republican leaders and met with Governor Wolf and his negotiators, and both left the meeting still certain they had the winning hand. It’s beginning to feel like the two sides are each in a game of wild card poker and each is holding Aces and eights with a wild card.

Wolf “knows” his election carries weight.  The Republicans “know” their increased number carry weight.  But since the public doesn’t get to vote again until November of 2016, the true value of those hands dealt the two sides are truly unknowns.

Since the initial veto of the entire budget, Wolf then vetoed education funding, liquor privatization and pension reform legislation passed by the General Assembly, and Republicans found themselves the targets of a half million dollar attack ad buy financed by the Democratic Governors’ Association and union funds.  Similar ad campaigns have been launched by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Americans for Prosperity and a PAC tied to GOP Sen. Scott Wagner of York, all taking aim at the Governor’s budget posture. 

Following a Monday meeting, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said the “acrimony is probably the highest I’ve even seen., but following a one on one meeting with Wolf later, Scarnati said a short term budget wasn’t off the table, and Wolf said he was open to all kinds of possible solutions.

Both sides have also talked about the need for a deal, and Senate leaders said they could be willing to move on some of Wolf’s priorities if he agreed to pension reform and limiting taxes.  In response to a question, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said he wouldn’t rule out a limited tax on natural gas, IF, a total package could be put together that benefits the gas industry.

Then again, the next morning, Governor Wolf took his “Schools That Teach” tour into Sen. Jake Corman’s district, an act not seen as helping matters from the political standpoint.

Republicans in both the House and Senate have said they would work with Wolf to find more money for education, but not at the cost of an across-the-board tax increase.  Corman noted, “This isn’t about education. Our budget had historic new investments into education. If he needs more, we’re willing to work with him to make that happen, but we’re not going to give him $2.5 billion in new tax increases.”

The question is whether one of the gamblers will blink, call, or continue to up the ante.

Yet one possibility remains as a short term solution to the constant upping of the antes.  Both sides can call their hands for now and wait for the next hand to play out, while passing some kind of stopgap measure to avoid loss of services to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens in the shorter term.