Time To Negotiate

On Tuesday the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to nonconcur on HB1416 as Amended. Governor Rendell held a press conference along with Democratic leaders to discuss the next step in the budget impasse process. The Senate Republicans are going to “insist” on their Amendment thus sending this process to a Conference Committee. The 4 Caucuses will now decide who their conferees will be and the Committee is expected to begin Monday or Tuesday of next week. However, the leaders will continue to negotiate until that occurrs. The leaders are hopeful that they will be able to work out a handshake deal on the budget prior to the Conference Committee commencing early next week.

Over the course of the next couple of days House Speaker McCall announced that they would be working on a spending number to begin negotiations. It appears that the biggest hurdle will be in dealing with education. The Democratic majority in the House feels that education should be fully funded. The Republican controlled Senate proposed drastic cuts to education in their Amendment to HB1416. That will be the biggest item to begin negotiations around. Once an agreement can be reached on the spend number and how much funding to allocate to education, I feel the rest will fall into place. To fund education at the level the House is hoping to will require some revenue source. Depending on the dollar amount of funding will determine the source of that revenue. There are several proposals for revenue on the table. The infamous PIT increase proposed by Governor Rendell, to place sales tax on smokeless tobacco, to eliminate certain sales tax exemptions for small businesses, and the least likely is through revenue generated from video poker. That is still a long way off in terms of coming to fruition.

It is my opinion that the leaders of all 4 caucuses should begin sitting down today and working together for the betterment of the Commonwealth. They all claim to have the best interest of Pennsylvanians at heart, however there are 77,000 state workers that are working without receiving their paychecks. It is clear that we have been enduring an economic crisis. Having said that, the leaders need to realize that despite the cries of lobbyist, it is time to make cuts to programs that are not necessities in order to ensure that the state can move forward and properly fund those programs that are deemed as essential to Pennsylvania continuing to prosper. Once the “fat” is cut off, it should be clearer to determine how to properly fund those programs deemed as important to Pennsylvania.

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