WITH A $28 billion seemingly shaky budget deal now being explained to the rank-and-file lawmakers whose votes are needed to enact it, here's a peek at how that process might be moving along.

Picture closed meetings: many lawmakers, a few legislative leaders.

LEADER: OK, you've all seen or heard some details. Questions?

LAWMAKER #1: Yeah, explain why we should vote for $700 million in new taxes if there's a $450 million surplus in here and another $100 million in WAMs.

LEADER: We need, um, a cushion for next year. And it's probably best not to mention cushions or WAMs in your next taxpayer-financed constituent newsletter home.

LAWMAKER #2: Why are we canceling the scheduled cut in the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax for business given that the national, nonpartisan and venerable Tax Foundation just reported our ranking among states "best for business" has slipped from 22nd in 2006 to 27th now.

LEADER: Well 27th is like halfway to best, right? Next question.

LAWMAKER #3: What's the reasoning behind a new 25-cent tax on cigarettes and little cigars that look like cigarettes, but at the same time we remain the only state not taxing real cigars and chewing tobacco?

LEADER: Perhaps you are unaware of U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts released Sept. 1 saying our state, our people, our constituents will produce 19.2 million pounds of tobacco this year, up from 6.8 million in 2002, making us one of only three states, along with Kentucky and North Carolina, with a higher yield than last year. It's a grower's market, baby. Plus, remember our motto: "Gutless on Smokeless."

LAWMAKER #4: I don't see anything in here about taxing gays for access to restaurants, concerts, pro sports, public restrooms, churches and rural counties.

LEADER: No, Daryl, we took that out.

LAWMAKER #5: Speaking of concerts, why are we taxing concerts, performing arts, museums, zoos and such and not pro sports games?

LEADER: You really think the Big Guy, OK the formerly Big Guy, wants to anger owners of the Phillies and Pirates while angling to become Major League Baseball commissioner? Come on.

LAWMAKER #6: This new tax on small games of chance - doesn't that apply to Pittsburgh Pirates baseball?

LEADER: Very funny, Daylin, but no.

LAWMAKER #7: I just read the latest state-by-state study by the Washington-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development that says 72 percent of our college graduates have debt higher than grads in all but four other states. We rank 46th and all our neighbors - New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia - are ahead of us. What are we doing about it?

LEADER: Well, you didn't want to legalize video poker to pay for tuitions so it's your fault, Paul.

LAWMAKER #8: Speaking of gambling, we clearly effed-up the slots thing. Philadelphia doesn't even have them yet. We said we wouldn't expand gambling until all 14 slots facilities were running for a year. Why in the name of one-eyed-jacks are we now adding table games?

LEADER: Because otherwise we'd have to cut our staffs, trim our perks, revise our health-care and pension packages, stop taking per diems, end catered meals, dry up all our slush funds and close our new video studios making those "for-our-constituents" broadcasts. Then we'd have to start answering questions such as why do we charge taxpayers $300 million-plus every year and give ourselves raises every year, maintaining the largest full-time Legislature in the nation while only a few of us do the budget work, the one thing we're required to do, and we can't even get that right. Would that be more appealing to you?

LAWMAKERS (after a brief pause) IN UNISION: TABLE GAMES!! TABLE GAMES!!

LEADER: All right then, let's go vote!

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