After 19 weeks of heated negotiations, lawmakers appear to be on their way to a budget agreement. Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders of both parties announced agreement late Tuesday on framework for a broad budget package which would end the five-month stalemate, possibly before the Thanksgiving holiday. Democrats and Republicans will have to make concessions. The framework is only a precursor to the actual budget agreement.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s campaign promise: to bring $350 million in new money to the state’s school systems will be part of the proposal. The Associated Press’ Marc Levy reports that negotiators want to send $600 million in gambling revenues to the state treasury. School districts receive these revenues, which are then passed on to homeowners as tax breaks. The framework puts off consideration of any expanded gambling revenue until next year
The compromise includes a tax increase, but only piece of the multi-billion dollar increase that Wolf first proposed. The GOP leaders are willing to let the state sales tax go up 1.25 to 7.25 percent, according to Politics PA.
A key issue of the negotiations has been liquor privatization, and it is expected to be part of the final budget. The issue, however, has not been part of the most recent round of negotiations, and details on the liquor privatization plan and distribution of new revenue remain to be worked out. The GOP leaders are also pushing for pension reform as the bargaining continues.
Gov. Tom Wolf is also expected to cede on a very important piece of his running platform: the natural gas severance tax. The issue has been a sticking point in negotiations.
“We sit on one of the largest natural gas deposits in the world. We have the natural resources to actually do something about the problem here. A severance tax on that resource would be something that’s really appropriate. How radical would that be? Well, Texas does it; Oklahoma does it; North Dakota does it; Alaska, Louisiana, they do it, and West Virginia does it,” Gov. Wolf told the Post-Gazette in Feb. The most recent reports show that the tax will most likely not be part of the budget.
On Friday, House Majority Leader Dave Reed told his Republican colleagues the progress could lead to a budget agreement by Thanksgiving.