Wolf sees budget 'progress;' evidence wanting
He said state budget talks are going well, but legislators have yet to say how they will fill a gaping shortfall in the budget for the fiscal year that ends Friday and raise the money to balance next year's.
HARRISBURG — Gov. Wolf said Tuesday that state budget talks are going well. The evidence, however, has yet to be seen.
Pennsylvania's new fiscal year starts Saturday, and legislators have yet to say how they will fill a gaping shortfall for the fiscal year that ends Friday and raise the money to balance next year's budget. Nor have they indicated what they'll approve in the way of spending on schools, social services, prisons, and the other business of state government.
Even the budget discussions have been particularly out of view.
But Wolf told reporters Tuesday afternoon that work is on track.
"I'm pleased with the progress we're making," he said, adding, "Things are really moving, but I think they're moving in the right way, the way the democratic process is supposed to proceed."
The governor said negotiators still are talking about exactly how much the state will spend next year, and he sounded less than enthusiastic about two proposals for the state to increase revenues. Of the House-approved plan to expand gambling, including through the introduction of video-gaming terminals in bars, he said, "I think it needs some work." On taxing drinks in bars at their retail rather than wholesale prices, he said: "I haven't seen exactly what the proposal is, but the general idea doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling."
Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) said negotiators were still working to reach agreement on the main spending bill as well as on gambling expansion. And he indicated that House Republicans would look unfavorably upon a gambling bill that did not include video-gaming terminals, which face Senate opposition.
"We sent a lot of revenue proposals over to the Senate over the last couple months," Reed said. "Gaming with VGTs was one of them. Sent a lot of liquor proposals over to the Senate as well. We're certainly not going to rubber-stamp a revenue package that isn't at least respectful of the proposals we sent over."
Last July, the Assembly approved bills to pay for the annual spending plan nearly two weeks into the fiscal year. The governor let it lapse into law by neither signing nor vetoing them.
Wolf said he did not know what he will do if legislators send him a budget bill Friday — deadline day — without the accompanying revenue package to pay for it or code bills to enact it. He said he would have to see what the circumstances were, and noted: "I think the Senate is going to adjourn for at least a day for a wedding of one of its members."
Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre), said that while Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R., Cambria) will be getting married Saturday, that is not why the Senate won't be in the building. Kocher said the Senate plans to finish the budget by Friday, and if that doesn't happen, "we'll be at a breaking point where we can come back the following week."
"Our schedule at this point has nothing to do with the availability of Sen. Langerholc," she said.
She criticized Wolf's mention of the upcoming nuptials.
"It was not appropriate for the governor to bring up a member's personal life in the middle of a press gaggle," she said.