HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Senate on Thursday passed nearly all the final pieces of a long-overdue budget plan, including a bill that would let consumers for the first time purchase wine in some supermarkets and restaurants, and legislation to distribute $350 million in new school funding.
The liquor bill calls for enabling licensed supermarkets, restaurants, and bars to sell as many as four bottles of wine to customers. The education measure would spread more money to schools this year using a blend of approaches favored both by Gov. Wolf and the Republican-led Senate. What remained unclear Thursday was how much each district would get.
The votes suggested progress toward an end to the budget stalemate, but came with an elephant in the room no one would discuss: what taxes would be raised to pay for the $30.8 billion spending plan backed by senators and Wolf that still must win support in the House.
"Instead of me talking about what I believe is in it, just wait and see," Wolf said Thursday.
The lack of details on how to fund the budget has been a key sticking point in negotiations this week, and perhaps the main item standing between lawmakers and a deal.
The revenue question has also led to a Catch-22 in the Capitol: House lawmakers want to know what taxes might be raised before voting on other pieces of the so-called framework agreement, while senators want the House's support before disclosing which taxes they want to impose or increase.
"I don't think a tax package moves unless everyone agrees to it," said Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.), minority chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
If anyone knew how that issue might be resolved - or if resolution could end the five-month stalemate - they weren't saying so Thursday.
Both chambers recessed without plans to return Friday, though officials said negotiations would continue.
"These are very important decisions," said Sen. Pat Browne (R., Lehigh), chair of the Appropriations Committee. "We're trying to work it out, none of us have left, we're all here talking about it. We're going to get this done."
Many lawmakers have pledged to skip the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering in Manhattan, which begins Friday and has long been an annual highlight for the political class.
The Senate was not scheduled to return to Harrisburg until Monday. The House modified its schedule to bring lawmakers back starting Saturday and through next week, said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans.
Earlier this week, the House passed its own pared-down spending plan and sent it to the Senate, where members effectively gutted it to reflect the agreement they had with Wolf.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) said negotiators were attempting "to reconcile any differences we have" with the Senate and governor, though he did not specify say what those differences were or how they might be resolved.
"It's a puzzle," he said. "Every time you put one piece in, another piece has to fit."
One piece that might need alteration was the liquor proposal the Senate passed Thursday.
In addition to the four-bottle limit, it would establish a committee to study the concept of leasing liquor wholesale operations currently managed by the state.
One of the bill's key supporters, Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R., Bucks), said Wolf would sign off on that.
Its fate in the House was unclear. McIlhinney said Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) also wanted beer distributors to be allowed to sell wine and possibly spirits.
Reed said it was too early to comment on the Senate's liquor bill.
Another area of potential dispute between the House and Senate was where to direct the additional $350 million for schools.
The school code passed Thursday by the Senate would distribute the new money this year using a hybrid of formulas preferred by Wolf and Republicans.
Wolf has proposed a larger boost to districts where funding was cut in recent years - such as Philadelphia - while Republicans favored immediate implementation of a funding formula devised by a bipartisan committee.
That formula would also become the default blueprint for distributing basic education funding after this year, according to the bill.
Whether the House would sign off on the proposal remained unclear Thursday night. Reed said school funding was among the issues leaders wanted to discuss over the weekend.