Booze, books at center of budget stalemate as deadline nears

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) was in full preacher mode.

He pounded the podium in the Capitol.

His pounded the historic dome with high-pitched decibels.

He sweated.

“We will not fail our children,” Hughes yelled full-throatedly and slammed his hand on the podium.

Assembled members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers ate up every second. They cheered wildly as he loudly called for more education funding from the state legislature.

“This is non-negotiable,” he shouted again, this time pounding his chest.

Hughes said his mother was a secretary in a Philadelphia school for 33 years and never missed a day of work. He’s clearly passionate about the issue and feels Republicans are trying to short change education with their budget.

Senator Scott Wagner (R-York) is also passionate and he insists Hughes is getting his talking points from teachers’ unions.

“They want to wrap the kids around themselves and say it’s about the kids. It’s not,” Wagner insists.

Wagner says more money for schools translates into more money for teachers’ pensions, salaries and benefits.

“We have 180,000 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania,” Wagner said. “If we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”

The Senate is also proceeding with a liquor privatization bill co-sponsored by Wagner. Wendell Young, head of United Food and Commercials Workers union, which represents state store workers, says many Republican senators don’t support it but will vote for it because they know ultimately Wolf won’t sign it. Young insists the plan will decrease booze revenues to the state and increase prices to consumers.

“The thing that’s least on people’s minds is liquor privatization,” Young said. “So, the folks in this building need to grow up, get their sleeves rolled up and get to work.”

House and Senate Republicans have been working on their own spending plan that they’ll throw on Governor Wolf’s desk by the midnight June 30 deadline. But it’s not a budget until the governor signs off on it. Wolf is saying he’ll veto all or part of it.

“The governor is ready and willing to continue these conversations,” said Jeff Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman. “The Republican leadership needs to now come to the table and get serious.”

Democrats have repeatedly accused the GOP of refusing to negotiate in good faith.

“We want to sit down with the Republicans,” said Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) the minority chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “It’s give and take. We’re not gonna get everything, but they’re not gonna get everything. They have to understand that.”

But Republicans understand that they have significant majorities in both chambers that are more conservative philosophically than they’ve been in years. Senator Rich Alloway (R-Franklin) said he sympathizes with Wolf’s attempt to fix the state’s structural deficit and is willing to help, but feels the governor is over-reaching with numerous tax increases.

“It’s about a billion dollars (the deficit) but it’s not four billion dollars,” Alloway said. “So, why are you asking for four billion in revenue? Because when you give government money, they’re gonna spend it.”

Critics say the GOP’s $30.1 billion no-tax-increase budget is gimmicky and relies on one-time transfers that will only exacerbate the deficit. Alloway disagrees.

“People are saying where’s this money coming from? There’s lots of different pots of money sitting around that at the end of the year is unused, so we’re taking that money back,” he said. “That’s your money. That’s taxpayer dollars.”

The governor sent a letter to state employees on Monday, reassuring them that their paychecks will not be affected by the looming budget impasse. He also sent a letter to vendors that their revenues may be disrupted, but they will be made whole as soon as the showdown shakes itself out.

But it appears the Wolf Fresh Start is off to a slow start.

“It’s disappointing,” Sheridan said, “and the people of Pennsylvania should be disappointed.”

While House and Senate Republicans slashed most of Wolf’s budget plan, they left in Wolf’s proposed increases for the legislature, which is a 49 percent hike for the Senate and 12 percent increase for the House.

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