Should rank-and-file lawmakers stay in Harrisburg until budget deal is done?

HARRISBURG, Pa, (WHTM) – At a luncheon on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said a budget deal may be closer than most people realize.

Huh?

“Well, Dennis, I’m an optimist,” Costa clarified afterward. “I do think good conversations have been taking place and I think we’re probably honing on some things to help us get to a resolution sooner than later.”

However, sources confirm those budget conversations have not been face-to-face between Governor Wolf and legislative leaders.

The big news Monday may have come when Costa conceded that broad-based tax increases on sales and income, which Wolf has been pushing for and Republicans have been resisting, are likely off the table. But Costa insists there is a structural deficit and leaders will have to find about $2 billion to fix it.

“I think now we’re looking at other ways we can get to the same end, or close to the same end,” Costa said.

Senator Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia) is one of the Senate’s newest members and one of it’s crankiest about the 118-day budget impasse.

“The pressure hasn’t mounted,” Haywood said with exasperation. “We’ve been off over a hundred days during that time.”

Haywood blasted Senate leaders and the Senate calendar for inactivity. He is frustrated that after Wednesday of this week, the Senate will not be back in session until mid-November. The Senate has only been in session in Harrisburg about 16 of the 118 days since Governor Wolf vetoed the budget June 30. Haywood says they should be there every day until a deal’s done.

“I’ll tell you one thing, if the Senate was in session for a hundred days, day after day including the weekends, in my opinion, we would’ve had an agreement,” Haywood said.

Not everyone agrees with the freshman from Philly.

“Leadership is here every day negotiating,” Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.

Kocher says rank-and-file aren’t part of the day-to-day negotiations and she recognizes that if they were sitting in Harrisburg collecting per diems while doing nothing, that too would be criticized.

Darned if they do come to Harrisburg and darned if they don’t.

“What we are trying to do is make that balance of what is right for taxpayers,” Kocher said.

But Haywood thinks a mass of members in Harrisburg might provide the critical mass to  push leaders across the finish line.

“Being present here creates some greater incentive to reach a conclusion,” Haywood said.

The governor’s spokesman says Wolf agrees with Haywood and thinks lawmakers should be in Harrisburg until a budget is complete.

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