HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The entire state House, men and women, Republican and Democrat, stood side-by-side on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda Thursday afternoon.
Governor Tom Wolf joined them.
It was a rare display of unity in Harrisburg and it was made possible by the scourge of opioid addiction in Pennsylvania.
“This is an epidemic,” Representative Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) said. “Thirty-three hundred people in 2015 were reported to have died in the state of Pennsylvania.”
The group called for a special legislative session to explore solutions to opioid abuse. But apparently, the cooperative spirit is not confined to addiction issues.
“We’ll be finishing up with the budget, I think, next week. I feel very positive about that,” Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) said following the opioid news conference.
It’s certainly been a positive few weeks for the legislature with real accomplishment. It began with the legalization of medical marijuana, then came agreement on a basic education funding formula, followed by modernizing of liquor sales and pension reform.
“We have a groove going,” laughed Representative Patty Kim (D-Dauphin). “I just hope it continues on until June 30th we have a budget.”
All sides got bruised by last year’s nine-month budget impasse. Sources tell ABC27 that expectations – and tensions – are much lower this year. The tone, they say, is much calmer.
“I think we’re within hundreds of millions of dollars of each other,” said Representative Dave Reed (R-Indiana), the House Majority Leader. “If you look where we were last year at this time, we were billions of dollars apart.”
But as the House vowed to battle opioid addiction with a special session, it was putting together a budget that relies on potentially addictive behaviors to balance without raising broad-based taxes.
“I think we need revenue,” admitted Representative John Payne (R-Dauphin). “And liquor and gaming and tobacco are gonna be the revenue generators.”
Members expect to get exact budget details in the next few days but expect there will be increased taxes on tobacco products, expanded gambling and higher profits from liquor modernization.
“We’re kind of holding our noses with some of the votes that we’re taking,” Kim said, “but we know that it’s good for the big picture in order to keep moving forward.”