HARRISBURG - There might not be high-level negotiating sessions yet, but Republicans and Democrats in the legislature at least began talking informally on the Pennsylvania budget yesterday.
The two sides have been fighting over competing versions of a spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1.
Gov. Rendell and House Democratic leaders have pushed for an almost $29 billion proposal that would increase funding for education but temporarily increase the state personal income-tax rate by 16 percent.
Republican legislative leaders have drawn a line in the sand: They will not vote for any broad-based tax increases. Instead, they are pushing a $27.1 billion plan that calls for steep spending cuts.
Come Monday, House and Senate leaders will appoint members to a conference committee whose task will be to reach a compromise.
Between now and then, however, there will be informal talks between the two sides in the hope of hammering out an agreement.
Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of talk but no progress on breaking the budget stalemate.
In the meantime, about 33,000 state workers face the prospect of no paycheck as early as next week, and 44,000 more are scheduled to be cut off early next month. Many employees of the state judiciary already have missed a paycheck, and all payments to state vendors for July have been put on hold.
In addition, more than 18,000 Pennsylvanians who have exhausted their unemployment benefits won't receive the additional compensation checks from federal stimulus money this week because the legislature has failed to authorize the spending.