PA House Skips Budget Vote; Talks Could Drag Into Weekend

Sep 13, 2017

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- The state House is still working on a plan to fill a $2.2 billion dollar gap in a budget that is almost three months late. But negotiations took an unexpected turn Tuesday when the chamber adjourned suddenly without holding an expected vote on a plan from a conservative faction of members. 

Credit Katie Meyer

On Monday, House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin had appeared fairly sure a vote would happen the next day.

But something happened in the hours since then that stalled the process.

After the session's abrupt end, GOP leaders huddled in a basement office with a small group of conservative members--many of whom devised the proposal.

In its original form, it would have raised $2.4 billion by transferring apparent surpluses out of off-budget funds--something the Wolf administration opposes, and the House Democrats and the GOP-led Senate responded to skeptically.

House Speaker Dave Reed said that's still the plan on the table.

"Any time you get a plan out there I think you're going to make some changes along the way," he said. "We're working through those changes, and we hope to have a draft ready to go for a vote this week."

A more limited version of the same plan is also in the works.

It raises half as much money, and could be merged into a compromise solution if the broader plan fails. However, it's still unclear what the rest of that alternative solution would look like.

Reed said all new taxes are currently off the table.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Joe Torsella is renewing his warnings that, thanks to significant payments coming due this week, the state's main bank account will dip below zero on Friday.

Torsella has refused to extend a customary line of credit to cover short-term expenses, arguing that with the budget unbalanced, it would be irresponsible.

In a statement, spokesman JJ Abbot said the situation could "force the Commonwealth to run out of money and jeopardize funding across government."

It's unclear what Wolf will do on Friday. Abbot said only that the best option is for "urgent House action to fund the budget that they passed overwhelmingly in June."

Ralliers try to convince lawmakers to act on gerrymandering

(Harrisburg) -- Advocates for overhauling the redistricting process packed the Capitol rotunda Tuesday hoping to persuade lawmakers to take their quest seriously.

Pennsylvania's congressional districts are considered among the most unfair in the country.

Anti-gerrymandering group Fair Districts PA thinks lawmakers shouldn't have sole authority to draw the lines. Instead, they want an independent citizens' commission to get a say.

There are only a couple ways to make that change.

One is a lawsuit. The League of Women Voters filed one against the commonwealth early this summer that aims to get the current congressional map declared unconstitutional. But it's not guaranteed to totally revamp the process.

Or, lawmakers could amend the constitution. But that requires a lot of legislative cooperation--and Republican leaders have cited a variety of reasons for not acting.

For one, the process has to start off in the House and Senate State Government Committees. And committee chairs--like Butler County Republican Daryl Metcalfe--aren't on board.

"Ninety-six of his colleagues have sponsored House Bill 722," Fair Districts PA Chair Carol Kuniholm said of Metcalfe's decision not to prioritize the redistricting bill. "[It's] the bill second most cosponsored in the House in this session." 

About GOP leaders more generally, Kuniholm said their reluctance to take up the issue is "simply a ploy."

"We know it's a ploy," she said. "We're not convinced, and we're not interested."

Gerrymandering is often seen as a partisan issue

But Kuniholm noted, the shoe could easily be on the other foot--when the maps are redrawn again in 2021, Democrats could come out on top. She said Fair Districts would oppose gerrymandering by them, too.