By Chris Palmer, philly.com – Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG – In a dramatic twist, the Pennsylvania House reversed course Tuesday and positioned itself to vote on the $30.8 billion state spending plan backed by Gov. Wolf and Senate Republicans, setting up a possible sprint to end the months-long budget impasse by Christmas.
The shift came a day after the Republican-controlled House proposed a temporary budget and Wolf vowed to veto that plan if it reached his desk.
During a chaotic floor session Tuesday, House members suddenly abandoned their so-called stopgap proposal by a 100-99 vote, moving instead to consider the budget that the Senate has already passed.
It was the latest curveball in a budget season unlike any in more than a decade – and it appeared likely to trigger a sequence of maneuvers so other budget-related bills could be rammed through the House and Senate.
If those moves succeed, Wolf could sign a final deal before the holiday, freeing up cash for the school districts and nonprofits that have struggled during the impasse, which is approaching its sixth month.
But a number of questions remained about if it was procedurally possible to take action on several bills requiring final approval. And many of the outstanding items – potential tax hikes, pension changes, and how to distribute new school money – have derailed other tentative agreements in the last two months.
In his only comment to reporters, Wolf said simply: “I think we’re a step closer to the budget we all want.”
The next step would likely be a House vote on the $30.8 billion plan, which calls for $350 million in new funding for schools, Wolf’s priority. If the House approves the bill, it would be sent immediately to the governor’s desk on Wednesday, a day on which lawmakers would tie the modern-era record for not enacting a budget.
One crucial piece is a tax bill that would need to generate about $700 million in new revenue. Lawmakers have declined to publicly specify which taxes they may raise or impose.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) said late Tuesday that before the House begins moving many of the pieces in the framework, the Senate needs to specify which taxes it wants to raise. “We can’t send a budget bill to the governor without a tax code bill to pay for it,” Reed said.
Also unclear was the fate of a companion bill that changes the state’s pension system – something Senate Republicans have insisted is essential to their agreement with Wolf.
Because the House rejected that measure over the weekend, the chamber would have to either reconsider the bill or vote on a new version that the Senate could pass and forward. If the House amends the current bill, it would be kicked back to the Senate for another vote on the changes.