House passes spending bill

And they did it! The House approved a spending bill for the 2010-11 fiscal year, six hours before the July 1 deadline. The vote came shortly after a motion to suspend the chamber’s 24 hour waiting period.

The final tally was 117-84. The measure will head to Governor Rendell’s desk, after Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Keith McCall sign it.

It’s unclear whether Governor Rendell will sign the bill into law tonight.

Senate passes 2010-11 spending bill

The Senate has passed a spending bill for the fiscal year that begins tomorrow, setting the stage for a House vote that could come hours before tonight’s midnight budget deadline.

The upper chamber approved the 28.05 billion dollar spending plan on a 37-13 vote.

Among the lawmakers voting no was Democratic Senator Daylin Leach of Montgomery County, who says he’s frustrated the budget doesn’t include more targeted taxes.

Even though a natural gas tax is part of the budget agreement, this year’s plan won’t factor in any revenue from the levy, and lawmakers won’t vote on the proposal until the fall.

Nearly every department would see its funding trimmed in this budget. The Department of Environmental Protection loses 13 million dollars, and the Department of Public Welfare’s budget shrinks by more than 60 million dollars.

The House is expected to vote on the plan tonight. Its Rules and Appropriations Committees are meeting right now, and the full chamber reconvenes at 2:00.

Here’s the roll call of this afternoon’s Senate vote:

Updated budget numbers

Here’s the most recent look at the budget’s line item specifics. The spending bill has cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee, and will  be taken up by the full Senate shortly. Meantime, House Democrats are caucusing to determine whether or not they have the votes to pass it.

A southeastern Democrat gave me the “it’s iffy” hand gesture in the hallway a few minutes ago. That’s all the information I have so far on how the caucus is going.

Budget line items

For your viewing pleasure, the line item specifics of this year’s budget are posted below.

The Senate Appropriations Committee meeting has been postponed until tomorrow, setting the stage for what’s likely to be a frantic day. Both chambers will need to suspend their rules in order to pass a budget by the midnight deadline.

More budget details emerge

Just filed this report for PA’s NPR affiliates. More details to come tonight, once the actual appropriations bill emerges before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Governor Rendell and legislative leaders have hammered out a budget agreement, one day before the June 30th deadline. The 28.05 billion dollar spending plan includes a 250 million dollar increase in basic education spending, but Rendell says most departments will experience cuts.

Rendell says the deal also includes a natural gas tax.

More details will emerge tonight, when the Senate Appropriations Committee votes on the spending bill.

That will set the stage for a full Senate vote tomorrow morning. If the measure passes the upper chamber it goes to the House, where members would need to suspend their rules in order to vote on the bill by midnight Wednesday.

Lawmakers still need to vote on a fiscal code, which sets Pennsylvania’s tax rates. A handful of other budget-related bills have yet to be approved, as well.

White smoke at the Capitol

Governor Rendell and legislative leaders have agreed to a final framework for next year’s budget. Here’s what happens next:

Rendell will hold an afternoon press conference spelling out the terms of the deal. We already know it’s a bit north of 28 billion dollars, accounts for the tentative $850 million in FMAP money, and includes a decent increase in basic education spending. There IS  natural gas tax, but there’s no levy on smokeless tobacco or cigars.

Legislative staffers are busy turning the agreement into an actual bill. “If things go well we will have in the Senate a presentment of the general appropriations bill in the form of an amendment to the House [appropriations bill that was passed earlier this year,” explains Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. That language would go to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will convene and vote on the bill late tonight.

As that happens, House Democrats will discuss the budget plan in caucus. “This is really not an agreement until our members agree,” cautions House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, who likely still has nightmares about his caucus tanking last year’s tentative budget deal. “The final signoff comes from…members of both bodies, Senate and House.”

If the Senate Appropriations Committee approves the spending bill, we’ll likely see a full Senate vote tomorrow. House leaders aren’t saying whether they’ll move to suspend the rules in order to vote before midnight tomorrow, but considering how hard everyone is pushing to have an on-time  budget, you have to assume that will happen.

Of course, it’s important to remember a passed and signed appropriations bill is NOT the full budget. The fiscal code and various other related measures are equally important components of the state’s spending plan.

Budget deal in place*

After negotiating until nearly three in the morning, legislative leaders have agreed to the framework for a state budget.

The deal calls for a bit more than $28 billion in spending, and includes the boost in basic education funding Governor Rendell had pushed for.

Leaders have also agreed to tax natural gas drilling – though the severance tax would be passed later this year, in a separate bill. House Speaker Keith McCall says the budget includes 850 million dollars in federal medical assistance that still hasn’t cleared Congress.

McCall also warns of across-the-board cuts to line items and programs, noting House Democrats didn’t want to vote for revenue increases this year. “The alternative to no revenues is a budget that cuts programs,” he said. “And they’re not going to be pleasant, but they’re the reality of where we’re at.”

There’s still more work to be done. Lawmakers will resume talks around nine in the morning. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says the details need to be hammered out by mid-day, if there’s any hope of passing the budget by the June 30th deadline.  “The major outline of this agreement is in place, but the details are important,” he told reporters around 2 AM.  “Because as we said from the beginning, unless all of the components of the outline are agreed to, then none of the components are agreed to.”

In the midnight hour

Steve Crawford leaves Senator Pileggi's office

Here’s where things stand:

According to Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson, the four legislative caucuses have agreed to a budget of a bit more than $28 billion. It includes:

-A natural gas severance tax. Arneson says the budget’s fiscal bill would hold a place for the tax, but the levy’s details would not be worked out until later in the year. This is similar to last year’s budget, which included table games revenue, even though the gaming reform bill wasn’t passed until several months later.

-An increased basic education subsidy. (Not sure how much, but Arneson says it’s more than Senate Republicans are comfortable spending, which leads to an educated guess in the $200 million range. That’s just a guess though.)

-FMAP money assumed in the budget, which avoids an additional $850 million in cuts.

The deal is contingent on Governor Rendell’s approval.  A few minutes after midnight, Rendell’s Chief of Staff, Steve Crawford, walked into Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi’s office. The two met for about ten minutes, and then Crawford strode out. Did we have a deal? No answer. Were talks continuing? “The night’s still early,” Crawford said. “It’s not even ten until two yet.”

Crawford walked across the Capitol and into House Appropriations Chair Dwight Evans’ office, where the House Democratic leaders have been holed up all night.

Earlier this evening, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati said it would be a night of shuttle diplomacy. It appears Steve Crawford is the shuttle.

Tonight is make or break, says Pileggi

The pizzas are being brought into Senate offices, as legislative leaders and their staff prepare for a long night of talks. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says tonight is make or break, if lawmakers want to deliver a budget to Governor Rendell’s desk by June 30th. “If we can’t reach an agreement this evening we won’t have enough time to prepare a general appropriations bill for us to consider tomorrow,” the Republican told reporters a few minutes ago. “I’d say we’re making steady but excruciatingly slow progress. I hope to be here through the night as long as we’re making progress.”

And a June 30th budget isn’t just cosmetic. Pileggi says some of the concessions Senate Republicans have made – including a natural gas tax, according to Capitolwire and the Patriot News – are off the table once July hits. “All of the negotiations so far have been based on a final product being on the governor’s desk by June 30,” he said.  “If that does not happen all of those items are subject to renegotiation.”

I still haven’t spotted a House Democrat, despite numerous strolls past their offices. I’ll have an update ASAP, if that happens.

Shuttle Diplomacy

There’s activity in the state Capitol tonight. Legislative leaders are meeting on both the House and Senate side, as top Democrats and Republicans try to bridge a budget gap that’s narrowed to about $10 million.

“There are no meetings scheduled as of yet, but we continue to do a lot of shuttle diplomacy and phone calls,” said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati as he made his way to Senator Jake Corman’s office for some pizza. “We’re trying to tie up loose ends. Hopefully we get them tied down tonight and have an agreed-to product.” Scarnati says there’s still no consensus on what to do about the shaky status of $850 million in federal medical funding. Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said “no one” expects Congress to approve the full amount for Pennsylvania and other states.

Scarnati seems more optimistic than Governor Rendell, who John Micek of the Allentown Morning Call nabbed for a brief interview this evening. “unless I miss my guess, it won’t be tonight,” he said.

Count the Capitol Press Corps among the hopeful. Most of us ordered takeout Chinese, in anticipation for a long night of stakeouts.

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