Budget Bumps

As legislative leaders continue to meet with Gov. Corbett with an eye toward passing a new, no-tax state budget, it appears a few bumps might be popping up along the road to the June 30 deadline.

This is often the case and sometimes such bumps are smoothed out or crossed over. But mostly it's part of a political game of distraction: look at this shiny thing over here while we gut some programs over there.

Still, it's clear that earlier optimism of a budget by mid-June is gone.

After Thursday's closed-door meeting between House and Senate leaders and Corbett, it was acknowledged there isn't yet agreement on THE critical budget element -- a final spend number.

In addition, a proposal to feed tax dollars to energy giant Shell to bring a large processing plant to Western Pennsylvania is offering a substantial distraction to normal budget talks.

The administration is slated to soon brief legislative leaders on its plan to give Shell $1.7 billion in tax breaks over 25 years starting in 2017, as well as other state subsidies, in exchange for the promise of tens of thousands of jobs.

Meanwhile, the online news service capitolwire.com reports part of the deal with Shell includes further state spending to clean up the site of a former zinc plant where Shell would put its new plant.

The news service says that cost could run to seven figures.

Here's part of capitolwire's report.

"The state agreed that it would pay the cost of site clean-up, even though Horsehead Corp. - the zinc smelter who agreed to let Shell option the Beaver County site - is still in business and the site is polluted, former state environmental regulators said.

State officials who have declined to answer legislative leaders questions on the deal so far did not respond to requests for comment on this issue."

Also, it appears House GOP Leader Mike Turzai remains intent on pushing his bill to privatize State Stores, despite the fact it's going nowhere; House Speaker Sam Smith told reporters school vouchers are still on the table -- another no-go; and the Senate, in exchange for confirming Corbett's former chief of state Bill Ward as an Allegheny County judge, is reportedly ready to confirm several new Democratic judges as part of a deal to get enough Democrat votes to put Ward on the bench (a 2/3-vote is needed), and at a cost to taxpayers of $200,000 a-pop.

In other words, spinning wheels and spending money as the show goes bumping along.