HARRISBURG - Yesterday marked yet another day in the Capitol with much talk and action, but no fundamental change in the stalemate over a state budget.
Almost four weeks into the new fiscal year without a spending plan, Gov. Rendell and Republicans in the legislature do not appear any closer to breaking the impasse over what the fiscal blueprint should be for Pennsylvania during the Great Recession.
And Republicans who control the Senate only reinforced that point yesterday by unequivocally dismissing a spending proposal crafted by House Democrats - and backed by Rendell - and replacing it with one that is a couple of billion dollars smaller.
The GOP proposal (H.B. 1416), which passed the Senate, 31-19, last night, now gets volleyed back to the Democratic-controlled House, where its fate remains unclear.
But the administration yesterday swiftly criticized it, saying it did not differ from a past Senate GOP proposal that contained steep - and, in Rendell's mind, unacceptable - cuts to key education, social-welfare, and economic-development programs.
"The Senate has merely warmed over a budget bill that has been rejected . . . by the administration," said Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo.
The budget unveiled by Senate GOP leaders yesterday would be $27.1 billion - $2 billion less than the $29.1 billion proposal passed by the House last week and less than the nearly $29 billion plan initially introduced by Rendell.
The governor's plan had called for increasing the state's personal income-tax rate by 16 percent for three years to help plug the $3.3 billion deficit. But Republican lawmakers have said there is no way they would vote for such a tax hike in the midst of a recession.
The latest Senate GOP plan has no tax increases and proposes to plug the deficit with a mix of spending cuts and "one-time" revenues culled from several reserve funds, including the state's Rainy Day Fund.
"It provides a reasonable, commonsense approach to running state government," Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said yesterday of the proposal. "We continue to urge the House Democrats and the governor to recognize that there is no appetite for a personal income-tax increase and there is no necessity for it."
Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman (R., Centre) could not say how much of the $750 million in the Rainy Day Fund the Senate bill would use, although he said it would be most of it. The GOP proposal also draws on federal stimulus money and would tap additional revenues from the state's tobacco-settlement fund and a proposed, one-time income-tax amnesty program.
During the floor debate yesterday, Senate Democratic lawmakers accused their Republican colleagues of prolonging the stalemate by pushing a plan that they knew Democrats would not support.
Scarnati denied that: "We are not delaying. We are not pontificating. We are not playing politics."
Hanging in the balance of the budget impasse are the paychecks of tens of thousands of state employees. Without an enacted state budget, the state has a severely diminished authority to spend money.
On Friday, about 33,000 state workers took home a partial paycheck, likely their last unless a budget deal is struck soon. This Friday, 44,000 more employees will receive what could be their last check as well.
And many employees who work for the state Judiciary have already missed their first paycheck.
The "payless paydays," as they're being called in the Capitol, will continue until Rendell and the legislature strike a compromise and enact a blueprint for the fiscal year, which began July 1.
Rendell has also said he was informing some of the state's larger vendors that there is a possibility they would not get paid until agreement is struck.
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