Pa. House GOP hits wall on budget-balancing plan

Pennsylvania Speaker of the House of Representatives Rep. Mike Turzai R-Allegheny leaves a committee meeting at the Pennsylvania Capitol

Pennsylvania Speaker of the House of Representatives Rep. Mike Turzai R-Allegheny leaves a committee meeting at the Pennsylvania Capitol

If it fails, the next step is unclear for the House, led by Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. The House is supposed to return to session Wednesday, but it's not clear what'll happen next in a budget stalemate now in its third month.

It is opposed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, House Democratic leaders and southeastern Pennsylvania Republicans as a way to keep state agencies, programs, schools and institutions funded at levels supported overwhelmingly by lawmakers in a $32 billion spending agreement. Wolf has pledged to squeeze out savings from his workforce, health care costs and prisons, but it's nowhere near enough, and lawmakers are in little mood for deep spending cuts.

With the state's main bank account scheduled to hit zero on Friday, Wolf's administration is warning the eight insurers that administer benefits for 2.2 million Medicaid enrollees that they might not receive their monthly payments of about $800 million on time.

Stymied by dissension among Republicans, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives put off preliminary votes Tuesday on measures created to plug state government's $2.2 billion budget gap with money siphoned partly from public-transportation and environmental-improvement programs. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority - the state's largest public transit agency - said it would lose nearly 20 percent of its budget in the middle of its fiscal year, forcing harsh cutbacks across all services and a 20 percent fare increase.

The Patriot News reports that the Senate's plan to balance the budget using tax increases and expansions, gambling expansion, fund transfers, and borrowing will not be considered either completely or in part until after all non-tax and borrow options are explored.

It includes $200 million from the prospective sale of new casino licenses in Pennsylvania, although separate legislation authorizing such an expansion hasn't yet passed and faces long odds in the House.

It also would increase taxes on consumers' utility bills - in particular, natural gas service - and impose a production tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, a key demand of Wolf's.

Whilst the Republican's taxpayer budget will be discussed, there are no guarantees that this will be the final, agreed upon budget to fill the $2 billion in shortcomings.