Close, but not there yet, negotiators say of Pa. budget

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – They’ve agreed to spend $31.6 billion.

They’ve agreed to give more to K-12 public schools.

They’ve agreed to spend more in the fight against opioid abuse.

All of the parties around the budgetary table were on board when their plan passed the legislature last Friday.

Kumbaya continued at the Capitol.

“Everybody was high-fiving last week and they were ready to go home,” Senator John Wozniak (D-Johnstown) said. “I said, ‘we’re not done yet,’  and obviously we’re not done yet.”

Sources say the sides are about $300 million short of balancing the $31.6 billion dollar plan, which Representative Steve Bloom (R-Cumberland) insists spends way too much.

“I voted no on that and now here we are a week later and we still don’t know the answer to where’s the money gonna come from?” Bloom said. He doesn’t like that the spending increase is five percent, well above the one percent rate of inflation.

The constitutionally mandated June 30 budget deadline came and went.

The next deadline is Monday at midnight, when the governor has to sign, veto, or let the budget bill that lawmakers passed lapse into law.

There are also political deadlines to be considered.

“Cleveland is coming upon the Republicans very quickly. We have our national convention shortly after that,” Wozniak said. “People want to get out of Dodge and they want to get this to come to closure, so I hope we can do this in short order.”

But frequently in Harrisburg, the short order becomes a tall task.

“The question of whether we’ll have the revenue to support a budget by Monday when the governor has to make his final decision, I just don’t know the answer to that,” Bloom said, adding that rank-and-file lawmakers have been kept mostly in the dark about the ongoing negotiations between leaders and the governor.

But all sides seem to agree that there is a certainty: schools and non-profits will not be held hostage this year.

After all, in the $31 billion scheme of things, what’s a couple hundred million dollars?

“We can still run into April of next year and still have funds,” Wozniak said, because it’s only a small percentage gap that needs to be filled. The Johnstown senator was also philosophical.

“Ultimately, Pennsylvania has been here for 300 years and it will be here for another 300 years no matter what these frail human beings up on Capitol Hill do,” he said.

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