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  • Who's playing budget games?

    As many expected, Senate Republicans fell short in their effort to override several of the Governor's line-item vetoes in Senate Bill 850 (the state budget). Thirty-three votes total were needed for override, and only one Democrat, Sen. Lisa Boscola of the Lehigh Valley, joined with all 29 Republicans in the Senate in the veto override effort. Republicans were trying to override the vetoes of line items in the budget which were funded at an "agreed to" level by the administration and Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly. Why Rendell vetoed those line items in the first place points to gamesmanship by the Rendell administration, and yet it was Senate Democrat Leader Bob Mellow of Scranton who had the audacity to accuse Senate Republicans of "playing games." Who do YOU think is playing games, given that Rendell line-item vetoed funding for several programs in the state budget despite such funding being equal to, or in excess of, that which he requested?

  • Attempt at Overriding Rendell's Vetoes

    According to Patriot-News journalist Charlie Thompson, the Senate Republicans will attempt to override Governor Rendell's vetoes of several line items in Senate Bill 850 (the state budget, a.ka. the "bridge budget"). A veto override requires a two-thirds vote of both the state House and Senate, which would mean 33 Senators and 135 Representatives. Republicans currently have 29 voting Senators and 97 voting Representatives, meaning they'll need significant help from Democrats in both chambers for veto override efforts to succeed.

  • Dems Flirt with State Sales Tax Expansion

    The latest development in state budget negotiations seems to be a flirtation with an expansion of the state sales tax by Democrats. Various press reports in recent weeks had indicated that broad-based tax increases were supposedly "off the table." But now Democrats are toying with the idea of eliminating some of the current exemptions from the state sales tax, such as those for candy and gum, and perhaps those for certain services, such as laundry and dry cleaning. Do you favor an expansion of the sales tax, or would you rather see the state cut spending in order to erase the $3.3 billion state revenue shortfall?

  • Rendell Line-item Vetoes Budget

    A state budget was finally sent to Gov. Rendell's desk (Senate Bill 850), which passed with only a handful of negative votes in the House. However, the Governor chose to use his power of the line-item veto to "blue-line" all spending in the bill except that which is necessary to pay state workers. So this leaves much unresolved, and a lot or more intense negotiating is to come in the coming weeks and months. Senate Bill 850 was a relatively lean budget of $27.3 billion that held the line on taxes while providing a generous increase in basic education subsidies (11 percent increase per school district on average). To be continued...

  • Blue Dogs Heel

    Well, the budget saga took another strange twist as the Blue Dog Democrats in the House have apparently withdrawn their compromise budget proposal they had reportedly forged with House Repubicans. The Commonwealth Foundation's Nate Benefield sums things up nicely with this post on PolicyBlog.

  • Blue Dogs Finally Bark?

    According to a report by PA politics scribe Alex Roarty, the state House Blue Dog (fiscally conservative) Democrats will unveil a compromise on the state budget crafted with House Republicans. The measure will be introduced as an amendment to Senate Bill 850, a relatively lean plan that House Democrat leadership had been letting languish in committee. This compromise reportedly will not require any tax increases. But for the votes of John Pallone and Joe Petrarca against their leadership's plan to spend $2 billion more than the Senate Republican plan, the House Blue Dog Democrats have been more akin to French poodles.

  • Rendell breaks up Conference Committee

    Calling the budget Conference Committee of six legislative leaders a "circus," Gov. Rendell has intervened by inviting Sen. Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi and House Majority Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans to the mansion for talks. The move brought jeers from activists, lamenting that the new era of transparency only lasted a couple days and the we were ostensibly returning to the bad old days of a backroom deal. Rendell insists, however, his meetings with Pileggi and Evans will be sunshined in accordance with the law. Stay tuned....

  • Budget Conference Committee Begins

    State budget negotiations have entered the "Conference Committee" phase. In a Conference Committee, House and Senate leaders meet to form a compromise they believe can gather the support of a majority of rank-and-file Representatives and Senators. The Conference Committee comprises: Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, Senate Appopriations Committee Majority Chairman Jake Corman, Senate Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Jay Costa, House Minority Leader Samuel Smith, House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, and House Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Dwight Evans. The Conference Committee will be meeting at 9 a.m. this morning. For the first time ever, the budget Conference Committee meetings are open to the press and public, which is by itself no small victory for taxpayers. You can watch the Conference Committee meetings on PCN (click here).

  • Budget Update: House to Senate: NO

    The House has rejected the Senate's amendments to the state budget (HB 1416), which pared spending down even more, to $27.1 billion. The vote was 49-150 (I hope to have the precise roll call up shortly, my apologies for the delay). What happens next is anyone's guess. It's likely the Senate will insist on its amendments, which would throw the budget to a "conference committee," whereby each legislative caucus sends representation to haggle a compromise. Senate Rs will send two members, appointed by Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. Senate Ds will send one member, appointed by Minority Leader Bob Mellow. House Ds will send two members appointed by Majority Leader Todd Eachus. House Rs will send one member appointed by Minority Leader Sam Smith. On the House floor last evening, Eachus said the process would move briskly apace, saying it would be wrapped up "in days." We shall see. The compromise hammered out by the conference committee must be voted upon by the full House and Senate. Key factors to consider: there are purported to be as many as 20 fiscally conservative, aka "blue dog," Democrats who opposed any broad-based tax increases. Senate and House Republicans remain firmly opposed to such tax increases as well. Republicans, even with Democrat defector Lisa Boscola in the Senate and those 20 blue dog Democrats in the House, do not have the two-thirds vote strength required to overrided a Rendell veto. Rendell could, as he did in 2003, employ a line-item veto. Stay tuned...

  • PA Budget Battle: California Dreamin'?

    The Golden State's legislature and Gov. Schwarzenegger have finally reached a state budget deal that does not comprise a tax increase, even though California's budget shortfall, north of $26 billion, is almost as large as PA's entire General Fund! This might be a strong positive omen for taxpayers in the Keystone State. Indeed, Senate Republicans, led by Lt. Gov./President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, just took the budget sent to them by House Democrats (and favored by Gov. Rendell) and pared it back down to a no-tax-increase level. A Senate Democrat, Lisa Boscola, joined with the Republicans in supporting the measure. This will most likely produce a "conference committee" whereby each of the four legislative caucuses (Senate Rs, House Rs, Senate Ds, House Ds) will send representation into a closed-door meeting to hammer out a compromise. Given the determined opposition to a tax increase by House and Senate Republicans, and 20 or so fiscally conservative (aka Blue Dog) Democrats, PA taxpayers perhaps have reason to actually be California Dreamin'.

  • House Dems Shoot Down No-Tax Increase Budget

    Along party lines (but for Philly-area Republican Dennis O'Brien crossing the aisle), the Democrat-led state House of Representatives last evening voted down (103-95) a state budget that would have held the line on taxes. The fiscally lean plan came in the form of an amendment by Republican Appropriations Committee ranking member Mario Civera of Delaware County to the Democrat plan (HB 1416), which most expect will be approved today by the same vote. Speculation had been swirling for weeks that Civera had garnered support for his plan from as many as 20 fiscally conservative (a.k.a. "blue dog") Democrats. This could portend for an even more intensified budget battle, as Senate Republicans remain adamantine in their opposition to broad-based tax increases, which HB 1416 would require because it increases spending by $1.4 billion over last year, with state revenue vastly insufficient to cover such spending because of the worst recession since the Carter years.

  • A Not So Lame Duck

    Political lexicographers may have to render the term "lame duck" obsolete thanks to Ed Rendell. The term, used in the context of Pennsylvania's Governor, refers to a politician who his close to leaving office due to a term limit and has diminished political power, as other elected officials are less inclined to cooperate with him. But Rendell is proving to be anything but lame in the next to last state budget process of his tenure. Most recently, the governor threatened to veto any budget, be it crafted by Republicans or is own Democratic Party, which doesn't meet his persnickety specifications. And the governor's veto can only be overridden by two-thirds of the members of both houses of the General Assembly, which means 34 Senators and 136 Representatives. With only 30 Republicans in the Senate and 97 voting Republicans (and perhaps as many as 20 fiscally conservative "blue dog" Democrats) in the House, it is unlikely that Rendell's obstinence can be easily overcome. Long story short: It may very well be a long, hot summer in the Capitol.

  • Anti-Child Porn Bill Headed to Gov's Desk

    Legislation that would make it a crime to view child pornography has passed both the House and Senate and is now heading to the governor for his signature. House Bill 89, authored by Rep. Jennifer Mann, also covers mediums other than the Internet, including video and photographic images.

  • Senate sends gaming reform to the House

    The state Senate has approved legislation (SB 711) making sweeping reforms to the law governing casinos in Pennsylvania. Some major provisions in Senate Bill 711 include:

    Prohibiting political campaign contributions by individuals and entities subject to the Gaming Act. Prohibiting future board members from having any outside employment.

    Expanding the automatic felony ban provisions of the Act to include a lifetime ban on applicants with a felony conviction who seek a principal or key employee license. For all other license or permit applications, the existing automatic 15-year ban remains in place.

    Prohibiting employees of the PGCB, including attorneys, from being employed by any regulated entity for a period of two years after leaving the PGCB.

    Senate Bill 711 will be considered the House of Representatives.

  • Senate might consider outlawing texting while driving

    The Senate this week is likely to consider legislation (SB 143) by Sen. Tommy Tomlinson that would make it a crime to use a hand-held wireless device to send, read, or write a text message while driving. Those in violation would be guilty of a summary offense and subject to maximum fine of $100.

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