HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Friday’s sun shone brightly on the Capitol and the golden lady atop the dome glistened. It certainly looked like summer as the folks inside continued to craft a budget that was due during the summer.
But then there’s the Christmas tree filling the rotunda. The holidays have arrived in Harrisburg. The budget has not. It is 157 days late.
“Why it’s taken five months, I’m not quite sure, but it’s taken this long to get the votes and hopefully we’ll put this to bed in the near future,” said Representative Kevin Schreiber (D-York).
Lawmakers are scheduled to be in the Capitol all weekend waiting for leaders to indicate the deal is done.
“We are working very hard, staff is working on all the codes, we’re getting closer,” said Representative Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) the minority chairman of appropriations late Friday afternoon. Markosek is one of the leaders at the negotiating table. “We’re not there yet.”
Close is not close enough for the Easter Seals of Western and Central Pennsylvania which is awaiting $1.25 million from the state. ABC 27 obtained a letter announcing that 22 Easter Seals employees were being temporarily laid off beginning Monday due to the impasse. If a deal isn’t done by next Thursday, the letter stated, nearly everyone else will get temporary paycuts of up to 30 percent.
Republicans blame the standoff on a new governor – Tom Wolf – who’s been pushing new taxes.
“In his business he was everybody’s boss,” said Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon County), himself a rookie in the budget process. “He (Wolf) comes in here and he’s gotta be our partner. He kept asking and asking and asking and we sent him the message we’re not looking for new taxes.”
But it appears new taxes are on the way. Sources tell ABC 27 that legislative leaders and the governor are close to finalizing a deal that would expand the sales tax base, meaning items that aren’t currently subjected to sales taxes (amusement parks, golf courses, bowling alleys, salon services, movie theaters) may soon be hit with the six percent tariff.
Democrats blame the budget delay on conservative Republicans refusing to yield to a tax on Marcellus drillers and waging an ideological war with unions.
“For this to be held up because of issues like privatizing liquor stores, or punishing people by going into a bad pension deal, is a shame,” said Rick Bloomingdale, President of the PA AFL-CIO.
It’s likely that whatever deal is ultimately agreed to could have been agreed to months ago.
“I wish our country was not a country that had to govern by crisis,” Schreiber said. “But unfortunately, in many ways and respects, we’ve become that.”
So word is a budget is close but oldtimers will tell you close is never close enough until the votes are counted and the deal is done.
“We’re on the five yard line,” Markosek said. “Those last five yards are always difficult.”