HARRISBURG - A key House committee on Monday approved a temporary budget to distribute interim funding to struggling school districts and nonprofits, setting the stage for the latest showdown with Gov. Wolf and Senate Republicans over how to end the state's 174-day budget impasse.
The proposal faces more discussion Tuesday and could get a final House vote Wednesday - even as the governor and Senate leaders signaled such efforts would be pointless.
Ranking senators suggested their chamber wasn't likely to pass the bill, if it even considers it. And if the $28.1 billion measure did reach his desk, Wolf would veto it, he told the House Appropriations Committee in a letter.
The volleys marked the latest in a budget battle that is almost certain this week to become the longest in state history.
The governor vetoed another stopgap plan passed by Republicans in September, as well as an original $30.2 billion budget they proposed in June.
Rep. Bill Adolph (R., Delaware), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, acknowledged that he would have preferred to pass an annual budget, but said he believed a stopgap plan was the best way to get money to cash-strapped school districts - even if Wolf was threatening to block it.
"I've seen legislators change their minds, I've seen senators change their mind," Adolph said. "I'm hoping the governor changes his mind."
Like other Democrats, Rep. Joseph Markosek (D., Allegheny), was quick to call the measure a waste of time. "This bill is not going anywhere," he said.
The latest turn in the five-month stalemate occurred over the weekend, when the House rejected a key pension bill that was part of a so-called framework agreement touted by Wolf and Senate Republicans.
That vote imperiled the entire $30.8 billion framework, which would have sent an additional $350 million to state schools and enacted reforms to the state's liquor and pension system.
The stopgap proposed Monday by House Republicans would provide the equivalent of a $100 million annual boost to state schools, according to Adolph (R., Delaware) - well below Wolf's target.
It would also abandon the pension and liquor initiatives called for under the framework, which have been longtime Republican priorities.
A plus for House Republicans, however, is that it requires no new taxes. While Wolf has insisted that new revenues are essential to improving the state's fiscal health, Republicans have repeatedly indicated they are wary of hiking existing taxes or imposing new ones.
The stopgap passed the committee along partisan lines. Republicans hold a majority in that chamber and could pass the plan without this week any Democratic support.
The GOP-controlled legislature could also seek to pass the measure with a veto-proof majority. To do so, however, large numbers of Democrats - in both the House and Senate - would have to break ranks with the governor.
Still, Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) said Monday that he believed the Senate would not consider the bill, and Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) has also said he preferred to work toward a permanent resolution.
"We don't need to be playing ping-pong with this budget process," Costa told reporters. "Wasting time dealing with legislation that's not going to see the light of day, it's unconscionable to me that that's what's taking place at this point in time in the process."
Costa said senators, House Democrats, and unspecified interest groups were discussing potential tweaks to the pension bill that was rejected in the House on Saturday.
The idea, Costa said, was to make the bill palatable enough for lawmakers to give it a second run in the House, potentially resuscitating the rest of the framework.
But House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) suggested Monday that the best way to revisit the pension discussion was after passing a stopgap plan.
"This gives us enough time without a gun pointed to folks' heads . . . to actually sit around a table and maybe having a little bit calmer discussion on how to achieve that goal," he said.
The modern-day record for a budget impasse was set in 2003, when lawmakers passed a final spending plan on Dec. 23.