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Pa. House approves budget plan Gov. Wolf calls 'irresponsible'

Budget crunch in Harrisburg

Gov. Wolf
Gov. WolfRead moreAP

The bill passed shortly before 10 p.m. by a vote of 103-91 and now moves to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

The plan, pushed forward by the Republican majority, seeks to close a $2.2 billion deficit in part by selling a portion of the state's landmark tobacco settlement fund, expanding gaming, and pulling money from special funds that pay for things like mass transit, environmental projects, and parks.

House Republican leaders have said the plan provides an alternative to tax increases and avoids a new tax on gas drillers that they fear would harm the industry.

Democrats, both in the House and in the governor's office, however, have said the plan lacks recurring sources of revenue needed to solve a larger, more systemic budget imbalance.

The proposal will encounter opposition in the Senate, one Democratic leader said.

"I think it would be tough [to pass]," said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D, Allegheny).

To some extent, House Republicans expect that.

One leader characterized the bill as a gambit, an opening bid to get a conversation going.

Before the House vote, Majority Leader Dave Reed (R, Indiana) said: "We're going to move forward with this with the expectation we get to 102 votes and then we'll enter into the next round of negotiations and hopefully finish that in a very timely fashion."

"Again," he said, "there is no guarantee."

What happens in the legislature over the next few days will greatly impact what cuts, if any, Wolf has to make.

Treasurer Joe Torsella, also a Democrat, has warned that the state's primary bank account is expected to careen toward zero, forcing Wolf to decide which bills to delay and which expenses to forgo entirely.

"If they're going to force this issue," he said, "I will manage the financial situation as best I can."