Lawmakers seek Pennsylvania budget deal as deadline looms
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Pennsylvania state lawmakers trickled back into the Capitol on Monday for the final days of the state government's fiscal year as budget negotiators worked to produce a budget package that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will sign.
Their efforts ahead of Friday's deadline come in the shadow of a record-breaking partisan budget stalemate in Wolf's first budget year that forced public schools and social services providers to lay off employees, scale back services or borrow money to stay open.
The House was scheduled to convene Monday at 11 a.m. and the Senate at 1 p.m.
Leaders of the four legislative caucuses broke from a meeting just after midnight Sunday reporting no final agreements on a spending level or a tax package to close a deficit.
They said they were inching closer to an agreement, and a House GOP spokesman said Monday that budget legislation could be unveiled in the coming hours after more closed-door discussion with rank-and-file lawmakers who still must vote on it.
Funding for human services and public schools could be affected, depending on the spending level, while higher taxes on cigarettes and natural gas utilities were under discussion.
Lawmakers say the debate is between a Republican position of roughly $31.5 billion - a 5 percent increase - and $31.9 billion being sought by Democrats - a 6 percent bump.
Wolf is seeking enough money to balance a long-term deficit projected at $1.8 billion in the 2016-2017 fiscal year by the Legislature's Independent Fiscal Office and to increase aid to public schools for instruction and operations by $250 million, or about 4 percent.
A tax package could revolve around increasing excise taxes on cigarettes by up to $1 per pack, from $1.60 per pack currently, and a reviving a gross receipts tax on natural gas that utilities sell to consumers. It was a 5 percent tax - or an estimated $55 per household - when it was eliminated starting in 2000.
Legislation that would make Pennsylvania just the fourth state to allow casino-style gambling online is also under discussion as a potential new source of revenue for the state treasury.