There may not be high-level negotiating sessions yet, but Republicans and Democrats in the legislature are at least holding informal talks today on the state budget.
Up until now, the two sides have been fighting over competing versions of a spending plan for the new fiscal year, which began July 1. Gov. Rendell, as well as House Democratic leaders, have pushed an almost $29 billion proposal that would increase funding for education but temporarily increase the state's personal income tax rate by 16 percent. Republican legislative leaders have drawn a line in the sand and haven't wavered: they will not vote for any broad-based tax hikes. Instead, they're pushing for a $27.1 billion plan that calls for steep spending cuts.
Come Monday, House and Senate leaders will name appointees to a joint conference committee whose task it will be to hammer out a compromise.
Between now and then, however, there will be informal talks between the two sides in the hopes of hammering out an agreement.
That is an improvement over what's been unfolding for the last few weeks, which is, a lot of talk but no progress in breaking the stalemate.
In the meantime, about 33,000 state workers face the prospect of no paycheck as early as next week, and 44,000 more are scheduled to be cut off by the end of the month. Many employees of the state judiciary already have missed a paycheck, and all payments to state vendors for the month of July have been put on hold.
And more than 18,000 Pennsylvanians who have exhausted their unemployment benefits won't receive the additional compensation checks from federal stimulus funds this week because the legislature has failed to authorize the spending.
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