Harrisburg to Philly: Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk

The Three Stooges peer out of a window in a still from an unidentified film. L-R: American actors Larry Fine, Curly Howard, and Moe Howard. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

LOOKS A LITTLE like the old bait and switch.

Or the power of the tobacco lobby.

Or the kind of Harrisburg-to-Philly thinking that encourages city secession.

Whatever it is, it puts opening city schools this fall back on the at-risk list.

The state Senate last evening changed its mind on the $2-per-pack cigs tax that it was poised to send to Gov. Corbett's desk and that the city says it must have to start the academic year on time.

Instead, it made the tax a temporary five-year tax, meaning that the measure must return to the House as part of a bill that also includes a bunch of stuff the top House spokesman says will be "very difficult to pass."

That's if the House deigns to come back from summer break.

I'd remind you that this tax passed the House, passed the Senate twice and is supported by Corbett.

Now, in the words of Mayor Nutter, it's in a "ping-pong vortex of political hell."

Where'd the switch come from?

Senate GOP Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who supported it, said it came from the GOP caucus. "It was an omnibus amendment," he said.

Asked if tobacco lobbyists pushed it, he said that none had talked with him about it but that "it wouldn't be surprising if they were supportive."

I guess.

Nutter says that, absent the tax, schools face layoffs of 1,300 teachers, nurses, counselors and other employees and cannot open "safely" in September.

He urged House leaders to reconvene as soon as possible and approve it.

House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said, "It is unclear when the House [which left for summer last week] will be scheduled for a voting session."

He also said other items in the tax measure, including hotel taxes for certain counties and $70 million in redevelopment funds for other cities - in other words, stuff the Senate wants - jeopardize its chances for approval.

The Senate adjourned until Sept. 15.

The school district planned to implement the cigs tax Sept. 1.

Even if the House returns and votes for the tax this summer or in September, delayed implementation would cost the district $1.6 million a week, Nutter said.

When I asked the mayor if he'd care to comment on Harrisburg's legislative process, he said, "No. I'm in the process."

He said he has "no idea" what happens next, adding that this latest legislative action "creates vast uncertainty."

So the never-ending saga of Philly schools goes on, now with a little more drama.

In other news, the Senate finalized and sent to Corbett legislation needed to implement the state budget. He got the spending plan last week.

No word yet on his intentions.

He has until Friday to sign it. If he doesn't, it automatically becomes law.

He could veto it. He could veto some of its lines.

I suggest the lines providing roughly $280 million to run the Legislature and the Legislature's $154 million "reserve" fund.

And, so you have a flavor of the place (warning: this could leave a bad taste), the budget the governor got is from a Legislature of his own party.

He got it on time, with no new taxes, which has been his annual request.

His resistance, so far, is tied to disappointment that a Legislature of his own party didn't deliver pension reform after it was widely reported that there weren't enough votes for pension reform.

If the actions of this triumvirate of House, Senate and guv puts you in mind of Larry, Moe and Curly, then you're getting an accurate picture.

Throw in House and Senate relations and handling of Philly schools and, well, it's easy to imagine face slaps, nose pulls and nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

It's slapstick governing by a bunch of stooges.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer