Marathon Pa. budget talks break off without a deal

June 29, 2010

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- State budget talks failed to produce a deal after negotiators worked into the early morning hours Tuesday without reaching a compromise that could be signed into law before the fiscal year begins Thursday.

Both sides said they made considerable progress and discussions were expected to resume after breakfast on Tuesday.

"Today was a good day. We're getting much, much closer," said Gov. Ed Rendell's chief of staff Steve Crawford, the administration's lead negotiator, as he walked out of the Capitol offices of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, around 2:20 a.m.

Pileggi said there was agreement on the broad strokes -- including an increase in funding for public schools and an assumption that federal stimulus money would be passed by Congress.

"We've made more progress. We are not finished," Pileggi told reporters. "We have more work to do to tie down some of the details, although we have an understanding about the major components of the framework of the budget."


He said it was still possible to pass a budget by the deadline but that would require a suspension of a House rule governing how quickly the chamber can take up legislation.

"The major outline of this agreement is in place, but the details are important because, as we've said from the beginning, unless all of the components of the outline are agreed to then none of the components are agreed to," Pileggi said.

The final 2010-11 budget is expected to be about $28 billion, a slight increase over this fiscal year's approved spending level. A $28 billion-plus budget would be less than a percentage point higher than the $27.8 billion 2009-10 budget that passed in October after a 101-day standoff.

Rendell proposed in February a $29 billion budget that the House passed in March, but state tax collections have continued to falter since then.

On Monday evening, Senate President Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said his caucus supported a tax on natural-gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale formation that would be enacted by Oct. 1 and take effect in January but did not want the budget to depend on a specific revenue figure.

Pileggi said the emerging deal would include a statement regarding the Marcellus Shale tax but without dollar figures or percentage amounts.

Rendell said he wanted "something that would make it legally binding and something that would include revenue in the budget."

The budget will determine if government workers will be laid off and could force school districts to raise taxes or cut programs. It also sets the stage for what Pileggi said will be even more painful decisions next year, when a multibillion-dollar deficit is projected and the federal stimulus aid will have ended.

The Herald-Mail Articles