Archive: July, 2009
Has the (metaphorical) sun set on the budget process? Bogged down in procedural disputes and openly criticized by Gov. Rendell the barely 24 hour-old conference committee abruptly recessed earlier this afternoon with the prospect of closed door talks to begin tomorrow.
Committee chairman Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) pulled the plug on the rare conference committee meeting 0 which was being broadcast live = this afternoon after Gov. Rendell called the proceeding a "circus." Rendell urged the committee to get cracking with the information before them and rejected the idea that any of his cabinet secretaries should have to testify before the committee since budget hearings were already held months ago.
"As nearly a month has elapsed since the July 1 deadline, the people of Pennsylvania should not tolerate another day of procrastination, posturing and delay.”
Gov. Rendell said he will sign a sharply scaled-back budget early next week that will allow most state employees to be paid - but will not provide billions in funding for education, health care and human services.
The governor stressed that his action is only a temporary solution to the state's budget impasse, which has now entered its fifth week. He said he still holds out hope that a permanent agreement on a spending plan can be found soon. A joint conference committee of House and Senate leaders is meeting today and over the next few days to try to hammer out a deal.
So today is the first meeting of the much-ballyhooed savior of the state's budget-crisis: the joint conference committee.
The six-member committee of House and Senate legislative leaders is charged with coming up with a solution to the now 29-day-old budget impasse.
That was the chant of the day from more than 1,500 state workers, who gathered on the Capitol steps during their lunch breaks today to protest the fact that they are being asked to work without pay during the state's budget impasse.
The workers, who were bused in from all corners of the state, shouted slogans, hoisted signs and donned orange arm bands, hoping that Gov. Rendell and lawmakers inside the building would hear their pleas to pass a budget so that they can resume getting paid.
The ripple effect of the Pennsylvania budget crisis is being felt as far away as Iraq. National Guard troops deployed to Iraq who work for the state failed to get their monthly stipend this month. That news comes via Twitter from Scott Detrow, a reporter with WITF in Harrisburg, embedded with Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade.
Meanwhile, there is a little movement in other areas. The Senate Labor and Industry Committee voted out a bill that would extend unemployment compensation for those who have exhausted their benefits. Federal stimulus funds would cover an additional seven weeks beyond the 72 weeks allowed and an amendment would make the benefits retroactive to July 1. A full Senate vote is expected this week. Since the bill was amended it must still go back to the House for final approval.
And Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), chairman of the House Appropriations Commmittee, agreed to move a sales tax proposal for Philadelphia through his committee tomorrow. Mayor Nutter was in Harrisburg yesterday to rally support for the temporary tax among the Philadelphia delegation. Nutter says without it the city would have to make drastic cuts in services, including reduced trash pick up. (More from the Inquirer and Daily News)
Ken Snyder, a senior advisor to Gov. Rendell, will assume duties as the governor's lead spokesman beginning tomorrow.
Gov. Rendell's press secretary, Chuck Ardo, had originally informed the governor's office that he would be retiring after a budget deal was struck.
With no budget deal on the horizon, Ardo, 62, said today he was stepping aside to allow for "consistency of message" through the budget process. "It's the beginning of the transition process," said Ardo, who will remain in the press office handling non-budget matters until he retires at the end of August.
He may still be on probation, but ex-state House Rep. Frank LaGrotta has decided to speak out rather bluntly about what he calls questionable activities going on under the Capitol dome - particularly around budget time.
In his new blog, LaGrotta, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to hiring two relatives for "ghost" jobs in his district office, contends that not having a budget is no sweat off a lawmaker's brow:
every day the legislature is in session, usually doing nothing, legislators and senators receive $158 a day in per diem.
His quotes were always funny and shockingly honest, making him a darling of the press, but Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo now says he is done with that chapter in his life.
Ardo, whom Rendell once called his "pithy press secretary," has informed the governor's office that he will be retiring after a budget deal is struck and the now 24-day impasse is a not-so-distant memory.