Votes signal breakthrough in Pennsylvania budget stalemate

AP News
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Posted: Dec 22, 2015 4:39 PM

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Democrats and moderate Republicans upended House GOP majority leaders Tuesday in a sign of a potential breakthrough in Pennsylvania's 6-month-old budget stalemate.

The coalition sent a bipartisan spending bill over a key procedural hurdle, raising the possibility that it could send the main appropriations bill in a $30.8 billion spending package to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's desk as early as Wednesday.

The spending bill has already passed the Republican-controlled Senate. Wolf supports it as part of a wider budget package that has been hung up by House GOP opposition since the outlines of a bipartisan deal were announced six weeks ago.

"We still have a ways to go, but this was a nice step in the right direction," Wolf said. "So we'll see what happens tomorrow, and I'm hoping that we continue the progress."

The spending bill narrowly survived a series of procedural votes. In one vote, it passed 100-99. Tuesday's last vote, 100-97, sent it onward to the possibility of a final floor vote Wednesday. The parliamentary maneuvers also defeated the House GOP leadership's effort to pass a short-term emergency spending plan that Wolf had threatened to veto.

There are 119 Republicans in the House, making it the biggest majority since the Pennsylvania Constitution was amended in 1967 to set the number of House seats at 203. A small number, largely from southeastern Pennsylvania, broke ranks to join 83 Democrats.

The House adjourned and planned to return Wednesday, though committee meetings were planned for later Tuesday.

Pennsylvania is one of just two states — along with Illinois — still fighting over a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

In November, Wolf and House and Senate leaders agreed to a budget deal that revolved around a 6 percent spending increase and a $1 billion-plus tax increase. Wolf had sought the money to reverse post-recession cuts to public schools and human services and to narrow a long-term budget deficit.

But House Republicans revolted. On Saturday, conservatives helped defeat pension legislation that Senate Republican leaders had tied to their support for the tax and spending package.

Along with the pension legislation, other major elements of the bipartisan budget deal remain in limbo.

The tax legislation has not been introduced in or passed either chamber, and it remains unclear what, exactly, it would include.