A budget-crafting legislative panel met for two hours today in a mostly cordial discussion and broke agreeing to talk some more as the state entered it’s third month without a spending plan in place.
Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) the chairman of the conference committee, called the session useful although the state doesn’t appear any closer to reaching a budget compromise.
“It is always productive when you talk,” he said moments after the six-member joint committee wrapped up the session at noon.
During the meeting, House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) tried to break the logjam by offering a compromise fiscal blueprint.
The $27.5 billion plan contains no new broad based tax increases and is the same as one offered by GOP members more than a month ago. It never got a full vote of the House because Democratic leaders successfully blocked its consideration.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said that GOP members who control the chamber were prepared to approve such a budget within a day if needed.
The conference committee didn’t take any formal action on the proposal.
Instead, Evans instructed legislative staff to draw up spread sheets comparing Smith’s plan with one offered by House Democrats. That plan calls for $28.1 billion in spending and unspecified tax increases.
Evans said the group would meet again after that comparison is completed. He could not say when that would be other than it likely would not be until after Labor Day.
It was the third time the conference committee had met. It last convened a month ago and had made little progress toward solving the budget standoff since then.
The bottom line on spending and taxes remains the main sticking points.
Gov. Rendell and Democrats in both chambers are insisting on raising taxes to cover what they view as needed spending increases in core governmental services such as education and health care. Republicans, meanwhile, are dead set against imposing any new taxes in a recession and instead favor additional spending cuts.
And it appeared that Pennsylvania is on the verge of assuming an unflattering distinction: the only state without an operating budget.
Connecticut is also budgetless, but perhaps not for long. Early today, the Connecticut legislature sent Gov. M. Jodi Rell a final budget bill.
Click here for Philly.com's politics page.