Despite Chesco Reps revolt, budget talks stall

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GOP House members leave for holiday, no clear path ahead

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

T’was the day before the day before Christmas,

When all through the (State) House,

Various angry politicians were heard to espouse:

“Ghost voting,” “vote to reconsider” “insurgent” and “Twitter fight”

As legislators sought to finally get a state budget right…

4yesvotes

Local State Reps (clockwise from top left) Steve Barrar, Harry Lewis Jr., Chris Ross and Duane Milne joined another dozen GOP State Reps and all of the House Democrats to revive the $30.8 billion state budget. But as questions about “ghost voting” and where the tax increases would come from, the house adjourned for the holidays without moving any budget proposal forward.

With apologies to Clement Moore, budget chaos appeared to reign in Harrisburg Wednesday, after late Tuesday a handful of Republican state house members, including four representing Chester County districts voted House Democrats to replace the “stop-gap” budget with the $30.8 billion budget approved by the state Senate and agreed to by Gov. Tom Wolf, amid accusations that the votes required “ghost votes” from non-attending state representatives.

With remaining questions, which version of the budget to vote, as well as pension reform plan revisions and what taxes would be raised to come up with the nearly $700 million in additional revenue, neither house of the legislature seemed poised to do much of anything to move the budget process along.

While the Senate was on six-hour recall, the House was supposed to hold votes Wednesday — but after quickly taking attendance, the chamber saw multiple delays in being called back into session, before apparently adorning for the holidays at about 1 p.m. While House members are on a six-hour recall, legislative sources said it was unlikely they would be called back into session before Monday.

The budget standoff is already tied as the longest in state history and appeared Wednesday afternoon poised to break the previous record from 2003.

Republicans in the House had planned to hold a vote on a proposed 11-month “stop-gap” budget that would have restored most funding to local schools and social services. Wolf threatened to veto that budget, saying it would require the state to furlough some 8,000 employees and cut funding to schools. The state Senate did not appear to be enthusiastic about considering the second budget.

But, using a House rule that allows members to “revert to the prior printer’s number” or the previous version of the budget, 16 Republicans including local Reps. Steve Barrar, Harry Lewis Jr., Chris Ross and Duane Milne voted 100 to 99 with all of the chamber’s Democrats to swap the “stop-gap” for the $30.8 billion budget agreed to by the Senate and governor.

Except, GOP members, including State Rep. Darryl Metcalfe called “foul” suggesting a number of members who were on leave voted — with much of the focus on votes by Democratic reps Pete Daley and Leslie Acosta. Daley was on leave from the House, while apparently Acosta was in Nicaragua at the time of the vote, but both were listed as “yes” votes on the roll call vote.

At this point, there are questions about whether that vote will hold up and exactly which version of the budget the House will vote on in Monday’s session.

Even if the $30.8 billion version of the budget remains an option, its future is murky at best, because of a previously failed vote on pension reform in the House, Saturday, and remaining questions as to the source of the new tax revenue — both sales tax hikes and income tax increases have been alternatively mentioned — even if the House were to approve the budget as is, there’s still no assurance that it would move forward in the Senate without the pension portion of the deal.

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