PA Lawmakers Go Home, Leaving State Budget Unfinished

Jul 12, 2017

HARRISBURG (WSKG) - After an intense negotiating session, lawmakers have returned to their districts without balancing the $32 billion budget that lapsed into law on Monday. All day Tuesday, House and Senate leaders were tight-lipped about their progress, saying only that negotiations were continuing.

Credit Kevin McCorry, Keystone Crossroads

"It's a lot of things happening fast. It's not tension," said Senate GOP Spokeswoman Jenn Kocher when asked about the mood in the Capitol. "It's just--yeah, people are tense because we're trying to get work done."

But as evening fell and no bills were passed to Governor Tom Wolf, House Majority Leader Dave Reed emerged with the news that members were being sent home.

He wasn't sure for how long. 

"As soon as we have an agreement, everybody will be back and we'll finish that," he said. "Obviously, we hope that's soon. I'm not optimistic. We haven't even heard from the governor since yesterday at noon."

Negotiations between the governor and Republican leaders got bogged down over how much new money the budget needs in order to be considered truly balanced. Reed said they're far from the finish line on that front.

"We're not even to a point where there's really a question of how much recurring revenue. We're still arguing over what counts as recurring revenue," he said.

Wolf is reportedly pushing for new taxes, while Reed said he thinks it's more responsible to retroactively slash some spending from the budget.

As leaders negotiated behind closed doors, House members were engaged in openly heated debate on the floor.

They were working through the code bills that will eventually make up most of the revenue package.

The most contentious item was an update to the Human Services code that would, among other things, add work requirements for Medicaid recipients and charge Medicaid premiums to higher-income families with disabled kids.

The updates were added late Monday evening, with little warning.

While the bill ultimately passed, it was heavily criticized by Democrats, as well as some Republicans. Bucks County Representative Scott Petri was one.

"When you consider the cost of taking care of a family member 24/7 hooked on every machine known to mankind, I just do not believe that this is a wise provision," he said of the premium proposal.

Supporters of the updated code said it will save money on the state's burgeoning Human Services costs, and won't over-burden families.

Governor Tom Wolf opposes the bill, and said in a statement that "the process flies in the face of good government," and "there was no input from stakeholders or families that would be affected and no formal fiscal analysis."

He didn't say whether he would veto it, however.

In statements, the Wolf administration and Senate Republicans both said they're committed to continued negotiations. Leaders are expected to resume discussions soon, though they were less clear about when they'll bring back members.

Both chambers are on a six-hour call, though a House spokesman said they won't be back for at least a week, and possibly more. The Senate hasn't specified its plans.