Projected $100 Million June Revenue Surplus Hopeful Sign in Budget Talks

By Peter L. DeCoursey
Bureau Chief

HARRISBURG (June 18) – While Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Corbett discussed his 12 legislative priorities, the leaders hailed some good revenue news: June’s revenues are projected to be $100 million above estimate.

Since the gap between the governor and the GOP leaders started out Monday at $319 million, the legislative leaders tried to press the idea that this made their spending proposal of $27.656 billion less of a stretch than the governor has said.

But the governor has refused to move his number, or say when he would do so, or under what conditions he would do so, two negotiators said. Corbett told reporters in terms of agreement on a total spending figure: “I would hope we would get there in a day or two.”

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said, “We had a productive conversation. It’s a discussion about legislation, about spending and about revenue. I think we’re much closer now” on the various issues than they were before the meetings started Monday afternoon.

Most of the meeting was given over to a discussion of the “must-haves” on the governor’s legislative priority list.

Two meeting participants said they included:

• The ethane cracker tax credit;

• A teacher evaluation bill to keep the state in the running for $40 million in federal funding. There are two possibilities so far: a bill the administration drafted and a simple amendment to the state education code. That code now says teacher evaluation may be based on “pupil reaction.” The administration has explored the idea of changing those words to “student evaluation,” but some legislative staff think that change gives the administration too much power to define the evaluations;

• The Keystone Works program to provide workers collecting unemployment with on-the-job training and eventually return them to the workforce;

• Raising the state’s capital debt limit for infrastructure projects;

• Education reform, which may include measures such as charter school reform, a program to fund vouchers for poor kids in bad schools by giving businesses a tax credit for funding scholarships for them, and other measures.

Corbett said he would not particularize what he thought were his top priorities, but did not quarrel with the statement that the cracker credit was his top priority. He said he expected education reform would pass, but would not say which he would demand, and in what time frame.

“I’m not gonna tip my hand,” he said.

Pileggi said vouchers/EITC, now known as EITC II, “comes up at every meeting and are really important to a lot of members.”

On the voucher bill, he said: “Until it becomes a real possibility that the House would take up such a bill there is no need for the Senate to caucus on it, to have that discussion.”

Other bills are also on the governor’s priority list, including selling the Scotland School site, renewing an underground tank storage law set to expire and requiring all campaign finance fund-raising and spending reports to be submitted electronically. That proposal would save money, Corbett told lawmakers, and has been hailed by watchdog groups as an important disclosure measure.

The House and some Senate leaders also said a Corbett proposal to require block-granting of county welfare funds remains stalled, despite the administration’s strong advocacy for it.

“The administration needs to sit down with the provider community and explain why their fears are unfounded or address their issues and resolve it,” said one budget negotiator. “We keep asking the administration to deal with them on this, and so far, nothing. Until that happens, that issue is stalled.”

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