Lawmakers optimistic about state budget pact

HARRISBURG — Public comments made by lawmakers on Friday suggest there’s been little to no progress on a plan to pay for the $32 billion 2017-18 spending approved by the Legislature last week.

But hope remains that things will be resolved by Monday.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said much of the same thing he and others said on Thursday about the lack of progress, again noting there have been no agreements during negotiations but “everything is still on the table.”

The House-proposed video gaming terminal component of a planned gaming bill still appears to be a bone of contention between House and Senate budget negotiators.

“We don’t have an agreement on gaming expansion right now,” said Reed. “Certainly that’s something that has been important to our caucus.”

But he also suggested House Republicans could bend on their current gaming bill position.

“How much flexibility we have on gaming depends on how much flexibility other folks show on other components of the revenue package, including liquor privatization.”

Liquor privatization has also been a tough sell in the Senate, with enough majority Republicans and minority Democrats opposed to further privatization efforts following last session’s changes for the sale of beer and wine.

A borrowing component is still under discussion, said Reed, despite credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s Global Ratings on Thursday warning Pennsyl­vania lawmakers against “bonding” to address the state’s structural deficit.

Reed said he thinks things can still be resolved by the end of the day Monday, but there’s a lot that has to happen between now and then, including, from Reed’s perspective, more engagement by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“It’s going to take all five parties – not just the House, not just the Senate, not just Republicans, but the administration as well, to be part of the compromise,” Reed said.

Wolf will have to decide if he will allow the FY2017-18 General Appropriation bill to become law, with or without his signature, or if he vetoes part or all of it. Last session, when faced with the same decision, Wolf allowed the unbalanced spending plan to become law without his signature.

“He hasn’t conveyed anything to us,” said Reed about Wolf and the decision the governor might have to make on Monday if a revenue package hasn’t been approved.

Earlier in the day, Wolf, following an unrelated press conference, offered a different account of budget discussions but was as hopeful as Reed a resolution will come soon.

“We continue to talk and I’m, you know as I’ve said all along, we’ve had a really nice, positive, constructive tone,” said Wolf. “So we continue to negotiate, and I fully expect that we’ll get to a good outcome in a few days.”

The governor noted that this year’s down-to-the-wire negotiations are a lot like last year, but he’s not worried.

“They’re coming in today and tomorrow, and we’ve been talking since last Friday,” said Wolf of the House and Senate. “I’m optimistic.”

And when asked what happens if things don’t pan out, Wolf responded, “Let’s stay away from speculation. I’m continuing to negotiate. I continue to feel good about the way things are going. And I’m hoping that we have a budget very soon.”

He noted he offered up both spending reductions and revenue options — including a shale gas tax, ending some specific sales tax exemptions, restructuring state business taxes, eliminating some business tax credits and a fund transfer — as part of his February budget proposal.