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The more things change…

Last week after a three hour budget negotiating session, it appeared that a minor thaw was coming for the discussions on crafting a state budget acceptable to all parties – all parties said the meeting was “productive.”  On Wednesday, Governor Wolf’s Chief of Staff Katie McGinty resigned – with the Governor naming his Legislative Secretary Mary Isenhour to the post, changing the dynamic of budget discussions (see stories below).  Then last Thursday, Gov. Wolf took the 90-minute drive to State College area to talk Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman and House Majority Leader Dave Reed about the budget impasse.

But despite the staff changes, relative lack of attack ads and social media charges after the two meetings, the parties remained a long distance apart.

On Monday morning, word from the Capitol suggested that pension, liquor and property tax decisions be off the table for the budget discussion, while a severance tax and broad based tax increases were still in the queue.  Those thoughts appeared gone by midafternoon.  House Speaker Mike Turzai spoke to the Pennsylvania Press Club and said liquor privatization was a key to any other tax increases, and that a severance tax didn’t have the votes to pass. 

Almost immediately, the war of words blew up again in social media, with Wolf spokesman Phil Sheridan saying Turzai would “stand with oil and gas companies instead of our children and our schools,” and Turzai calling the $3 million ad campaign against Republicans “tawdry and unprofessional.”

After a couple days of cooling off, Corman, Reed and Wolf met again this Wednesday in York, but left the meeting with no suggestion of any breakthroughs in the negotiations.  All understand that failure to resolve differences means that funds for many social service organizations and school districts will begin to dry up in the near future, putting more pressure on all sides to reach an agreement.

Legislative leaders and Wolf Administration executives have generally voice the opinion that it will still be several weeks before they expect any major breakthroughs in the discussions.  In fairness, we are in new territory. In the last 40 years, we have seen budget impasses come and go, but never with both sides convinced their constituents were a majority and behind them 100%…and never in the political/campaign atmosphere that has marked this July.