HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Corbett shuttled between the offices of legislative leaders on the final afternoon of the state budget year Sunday with the fate of his ambitious budget-season agenda hanging in the balance.
The Republican governor said, “You should stick around” and “We’re working on it” in response to a question by The Associated Press about the latest on negotiations. The state budget year ends at midnight, and Corbett wants action on transportation funding, private wine and liquor sales, and public pension changes.
“We’ll get back to you,” Corbett said as he walked with a retinue of aides from the office of House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, into the Capitol suite occupied by Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson.
Corbett outlined the three-part agenda in his budget speech in February, but talks ran into a snag on the transportation piece, as House Republicans haven’t been able to muster enough votes to pass it and Democrats haven’t been supportive of the proposals in their current form.
As a further sign of trouble, Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin, said the Senate Republican majority has no intention of approving any bill to allow private wine and liquor sales if the House does not approve that chamber’s biggest priority, a transportation funding bill.
He also said he had no expectation that either bill will make it to the governor’s desk before lawmakers depart Harrisburg for the summer in the coming 24 to 48 hours.
“I have none,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate.”
Earlier Sunday, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said difficulty getting the transportation funding bill out of the House could also doom legislation on wine and liquor sales and public pension system changes.
“Clearly, last night, the House did not have House Democratic votes to help with the transportation bill,” Scarnati said. “We can pass the Senate liquor plan tomorrow; we can pass it today. We have 27 votes. We can pass that bill.”
Both chambers were in unusual Sunday sessions and planned to return Monday, the first day of the state’s coming budget year. Corbett has passed on-time budgets his first two years, something he has regularly touted among his administration’s accomplishments.
Debate began in the Senate on Sunday afternoon on a $28.4 billion state budget, though action on other bills — to implement it in areas including education, taxes and human services — were likely to be put off until Monday.
It isn’t clear how soon lawmakers will begin their summer break, which often occurs once the budget is passed.
The House transportation bill would gradually increase a wholesale tax on motor fuels over five years to help generate a $2 billion annual increase for highways, bridges, mass transit and other transportation programs. The Senate-passed alternative also would increase the oil company franchise tax, although over three years. Both versions also would increase an assortment of motorist fees and fines.
Corbett, who campaigned on a no-new-taxes pledge, opened the door to increasing the wholesale tax by making it the centerpiece of his $1.8 billion plan. Senate leaders have made transportation funding a top priority, but House leaders acknowledged Saturday night that they lacked the votes for passage.
Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said Sunday that he wasn’t sure what would happen next.
“There are obviously a lot of moving parts, as of last night,” Schoch said.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans were able to win a key vote on a bill to privatize wine and liquor sales over Democratic objections, but whether it was enough to win over House leaders who favored a more aggressive approach remained unclear. The bill remained in the Senate on Sunday.
The Senate bill would retain state ownership of the lucrative wholesale business of shipping liquor and wine but allow the state’s 1,100 retail beer distributors to buy permits to sell wine and liquor and allow certain other food stores to buy permits to sell wine.
The Senate also may advance legislation to potentially expand Medicaid eligibility to hundreds of thousands of adult Pennsylvanians under the 2010 federal health care law. The bill won strong approval from Senate committees on Friday and Saturday nights, even though support for it is uncertain from Corbett, House Republican leaders and their rank-and-file.
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