Lawmakers still looking for revenues to complete $32B spending plan

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill into law Friday hoping to help Pennsylvania patients with rare diseases. The 2017-18 state budget is in a rare spot. It promises $32 billion in spending without $32 billion in funding.

“It’s very unusual,” said Nate Benefield of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, one of many milling about the Rotunda keeping an eye on the budget negotiation process. “The constitution requires a balanced budget which means you have the revenues at the same time you have the spending going out. It’s unique.”

Borrowing against the state’s tobacco fund to close the book on last year’s $1.1 billion dollar deficit is expected. So is a combination of expanded gaming and liquor privatization to help close 2017-18’s estimated $1.5 billion shortfall.

Negotiations will drag on through the weekend.

“All of the targets are moving at the same time,” said Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). “So if you do a little less on gaming, you might do a little more on liquor privatization, for example.”

Negotiators continue to search for the perfect formula.

“I’m optimistic,” said Wolf, who is publicly staying positive. But there are signs of tension in the Capitol. A memo sent to House members by Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) Thursday notes that “nothing’s been agreed to.” It also talked about the importance of compromise, “however, it does not mean we completely abandon our perspectives in favor of the other parties. The sooner everyone comes to this realization, the sooner this process will be complete.”

Many saw that as a little aggressive for a budget thought to be all-but-done.

“We’re kind of still in limbo right now,” said Rep. Seth Grove (R-York).

Grove said he’s frustrated that House Republicans passed a budget and lots of revenue options back in April that Senate Republicans failed to move on.

“It’s tough to get a budget done when you send something over months in advance,” Grove said. “They (Senate Republicans) don’t do any work, don’t have discussions with you for months on end until the final seconds, you know. At least there’s an agreed-to spend number. But you’ve gotta fund it. That’s the most important part.”

Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said she understands the budget frustrations of rank-and-file members but noted the House budget that passed in April was not balanced and was too reliant on vices and addictions. She said the Senate is struggling with many of the House proposals.

So, does the revenue package get done this weekend?

Does it all fall apart?

As many like to say this time of year, everything’s on the table.

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