By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – As far as the state’s spending plan for next year goes, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre, said lawmakers aren’t as far along in their negotiations as he would hope.
That’s because the “big three” issues proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett are stealing focus from discussion on the budget bill, Corman said.
“Pensions doesn’t die July 1. Liquor doesn’t die July 1. Transportation doesn’t die July 1,” Corman said. “I’d like to get it done before that, but, you know, it’s a two year-session. Those bills don’t end. We can still work on them.”
Corman said the Senate has an amendment to the House budget bill that’s almost ready to go. They’re still waiting on a “global agreement” – one between the Senate, the House and the governor’s office.
But the Senate is prepared to run that bill in absence of that agreement.
“We’d like to have an agreed to product, but if we don’t, we don’t,” he said.
Corman said Senate should move the budget amendment by Saturday in order to give the House a chance to vote on it before 11:59 p.m. Sunday, when the current fiscal year ends per the state constitution. Corman said he hoped the Senate would be able on vote on the bill before then.
“Any time you’re talking about appropriations of $28 billion or so, there’s a lot of haggling back and forth, so it’s never easy,” Corman said. “But it’s the one thing we have to do.”
This is an update from 7:15 p.m.
Smith says transportation proposal still fluid (Video)
By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – House Republicans postponed yet another meeting to consider a transportation funding package Wednesday afternoon, positioning a vote for Thursday at 10 a.m.
And that’s likely because there still isn’t consensus on what the proposal will include.
Speaker of the House Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, said he expects the transportation committee to move a proposal tomorrow but the situation is still fluid.
Smith said that House Republicans are continuing to speak to House Democrats about what kind of proposal they would vote for, knowing that it will likely take a mix of members to pass a transportation bill. Within the Republican majority, members have disparate positions.
“There’s a lot of landing zones, in terms of there’s some that want more and some that want less,” Smith said.
Since budget negotiations began in earnest this Monday, House leadership has yet to vote on an amendment to Senate Bill 1, a $2.5 billion infrastructure funding package. With the June 30 deadline for a budget, and Gov. Tom Corbett’s directive to pass a transportation funding bill by that date, it’s up to the House to make that happen.
Smith said though the plan is not a “slam dunk,” it’s moving in the right direction.
“Time is still there to get it together,” Smith said.
This is an update from 5:45 p.m.
DiGirolamo confident of House support for Medicaid expansion; wants Senate to take lead
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – If the state General Assembly is going to approve an expansion of Medicaid eligibility along with the state budget this year, the state Senate will have to act first.
That was the message from state Rep. Eugene DiGirolamo, R-Montgomery, a proponent of the expansion. DiGirolamo said Wednesday evening that he was prepared to move his own Medicaid expansion bill out of committee on Thursday and believed he had enough support to pass them on the floor if Republican leadership allowed a vote.
“I think there’s enough members of my caucus that want to get this done – on the Republican side – that I really think we have a good shot of our leadership bringing it up,” he said.
But, he added, the easiest way to settle the issue before June 30 would require the state Senate to pass the Medicaid expansion within the welfare code bill – a piece of the state budget that directs state-funded welfare programs and agencies.
Democrats in the Senate have been trying to force a vote on Medicaid expansion for months, and would likely try to connect such a measure to the welfare code bill. Their attempts to do so have been thwarted so far.
DiGirolamo expects “15 to 20” other Republicans in the House to support the expansion if it were brought to the floor for a vote. Combined with broad support from Democrats, which is expected, that would be enough to pass the bill.
“I’m convinced it is the best thing to do for the state of Pennsylvania,” he said.
Gov. Tom Corbett and other Republicans are not so sure. The governor has been engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with the federal government over the issue.
After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June, states must choose to accept the Medicaid expansion portion of the federal health care reform law. Doing so would be mean expanding coverage to about 500,000 Pennsylvanians who do not have insurance now.
Though the federal government would pick up the tab for those newly ensured residents for the first three years, Corbett and others have expressed concerns about the ability of the federal government to meet that obligation.
Earlier on Wednesday, state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York, the third-highest ranking member of the House GOP caucus, said he was skeptical about expanding Medicaid.
“I never knew taxpayers’ money was free money. It still comes from the taxpayers,” he said.
This is an update from 5:22 p.m.
Transportation plan gets makeover to court Democratic support
By Eric Boehm, Gary Joseph Wilson
HARRISBURG – House Republicans gave a major makeover to a transportation funding plan in the hopes that it might finally garner enough votes to pass.
In short: prevailing wage changes are out, and the extra fee on traffic tickets is back in.
State Rep. Michael McGeehan, D-Philadelphia, minority chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said a new 100-plus page transportation plan was presented to Democratic members on Wednesday morning. The new GOP proposal would eliminate language to change the state’s prevailing wage laws for local road repair projects and would also remove the potential of privatizing some mass transit agencies, two things that Democrats objected to.
The bill will also include a $1 increase to the current taxes paid on the purchase of tires and would increase a tax on leased cars. It would also re-instate an additional fee on traffic tickets. The fee would be $75 instead of the $100 surcharge that was included in the bill when it passed the state Senate a few weeks ago.
“This has been an improvement, I have to say that,” McGeehan said. “The soup’s not ready yet, though.”
Overall, the bill would spend $2.125 billion. That’s down from $2.5 billion in the Senate plan, but up from $1.8 billion in Gov. Tom Corbett’s initial proposal.
The changes to the bill point to a shift within the Republican caucus. More conservative members of the House GOP were pushing for the prevailing wage changes and favored killing the traffic ticket fee. But removing those elements jeopardized Democratic support for the bill, which is seen by both sides as essential if any transportation bill is going to pass the state House.
The changes made overnight seem to appease some Democratic objections, but perhaps at the risk of alienating parts of the Republican caucus.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, said he “would be surprised” if Senate Bill 1 passes the House in any form, and if it does members supporting it “need to be held accountable” for voting to raise taxes.
Another planned meeting to vote on the bill was postponed on Wednesday morning.
This is an update from 12:15 p.m.