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Despite their grip on state government, Republicans did not always get along in 2011

HARRISBURG - The budget landed on schedule for the first time in eight years. Spending was slashed. But no one figured out how to resolve the $3.5 billion transportation funding crisis.

HARRISBURG - The budget landed on schedule for the first time in eight years. Spending was slashed. But no one figured out how to resolve the $3.5 billion transportation funding crisis.

No new taxes were slapped on Pennsylvanians. But neither was a long-debated "impact fee" imposed on the lucrative extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

And though a new law extended the hours beer can be sold on Sundays, wine and hard liquor can still be bought only in those beloved state-owned stores.

Despite one party's grip on the reins of power in Harrisburg, 2011 delivered a mixed bag of success and failure to the Republicans, who control both legislative chambers and the Governor's Office.

They squabbled. They snubbed one another. They had fundamental ideological disagreements over policy.

And, in the end, the Republicans' big-ticket agenda items - the "big four" everyone was talking about at the start of the year - did not get accomplished.

After three years of proposal, resistance, study, and debate, there is still no fee or tax on natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale. There are no state-funded tuition vouchers to help low-income families transfer children out of failing public schools - an item Gov. Corbett, a former teacher, made a top priority. There is no solution to the transportation funding gap. And the liquor stores? Still not privatized.

"I'm surprised by just how little got done," said State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery), who will leave Harrisburg next month to become a Montgomery County commissioner. "The Republicans control every lever of government, and they came into office with a lot of big ideas and big plans. And with the exception of an on-time budget, they didn't get it done."

Republican legislators bristle at the notion that four issues are the only barometer of success. They cite scores of bills approved and signed by Corbett this year: 148 in all, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said.

Those measures include:

A ban on texting while driving, along with limits on how many young passengers can ride with teenage drivers. The state still doesn't ban drivers' cellphone use, a step federal officials have urged.

A limit on defendants' liability in lawsuits, a move long championed by business lobbyists but fought fiercely by plaintiffs' lawyers and their Democratic allies.

An expansion of the "castle doctrine" to allow use of deadly force against attackers in places away from the home, a change long sought by the gun lobby.

A closing of loopholes in Megan's Law to prevent transient and out-of-state sex offenders from ducking registration requirements.

All that, Turzai and others argue, is in addition to the budget, which not only passed on time, but was the first in two decades with a spending decrease.

"This has been an exceptionally productive session," Turzai said. "We have been very, very focused."

The full picture is more complex.

Republicans often did not get along, and that left its mark on their work. Complicating matters was that Turzai and other GOP leaders in the House were new to their posts, as were many legislators in that chamber.

Gone were the days of backroom deals brokered by such powerhouses as Vincent J. Fumo in the Senate and John Perzel in the House, leaders who never hesitated to slap the rank-and-file into line behind the deals. The legislature's controversial 2005 pay raise - as well as the rain of corruption scandals (including Fumo's and Perzel's) - ushered in a new way of doing business and a new brand of leaders to do it.

The result was, at times, chaos. The House was upset with the Senate. The Senate was upset with Corbett.

As for Corbett, no one really knew. The new governor played his policy cards close and his legislative relationships at a safe remove. "I'm not Ed Rendell," he often said. He did not believe in telling everyone what was on his mind. The subtext: If you didn't like it, tough.

Sometimes that style took a political toll. Corbett angered Senate Republicans when he strode into their caucus earlier this year to push for school vouchers. Senators looking forward to a robust discussion instead got a speech. The governor left without taking questions. For weeks, senators grumbled.

Even a crowning moment for the GOP - Corbett's signing of the trimmed, on-time budget - raised eyebrows. That was because the Senate's top two leaders were absent from the ceremony. Word in the Capitol was that they had left the building, angry over how budget negotiations had unfolded.

Other friction surfaced. Turzai was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in October calling Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) an "old-school politician" who was used to making deals with Rendell.

Scarnati "likes to spend money, he likes to borrow money, and he's not afraid to increase taxes," Turzai said.

In an interview last week, Turzai brushed off any suggestion of animosity, arguing that if House and Senate GOP leaders really hated one another, there would not have been so many bills sent to - and signed by - the governor.

Sneakers and shoes. State Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery), the House Republican caucus secretary, explains the chambers' differences this way: the Senate, elected on a four-year cycle, is accustomed to a slower, more deliberate pace. But House seats are on the ballot every two years, and leaders like Turzai are constantly pummeled by members to move bills quickly, so the sense of pressure and urgency is much greater.

"Can you imagine putting Mike Turzai and [Senate Majority Leader] Dominic Pileggi in a debate?" Vereb asked. "They are two completely different people, one who wears sneakers and runs to church, and one who wears loafers and walks to church.

"But in the end, everyone understands the liability of not working together," he said.

That will be especially true next year. As officials said last week, the state will once again face a shortfall - a half-billion dollars and growing. The likely result: months of tense bartering between legislators and Corbett over what to cut after a year of steep cuts in aid to colleges and public schools, as well as programs that serve the poor.

And still looming as unfinished business are the big four.

On the plus side, a year remains in the 2011-12 legislative term. On the minus side: It's an election year, when legislators typically shy away from tackling big, complicated, controversial issues.

Give them time, political analyst and pollster G. Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College said. Though the ideological rift between House and Senate is undeniable - as are the legislature's uneven relations with Corbett - Madonna said it was too soon to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of Harrisburg's new political structure.

"One year," he said, "does not make a term or session."