Pa. House members hurry to wrap up loose ends

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HARRISBURG -- The governor and state lawmakers aren't going to get several of the big-ticket items from their holiday wish lists, though a pair of final legislative days this week could still bring closure on new congressional boundaries, funding for thousands of state construction projects and more.

Pushed to next year's discussions will be two of Gov. Tom Corbett's top priorities -- approving a Marcellus Shale regulatory and impact fee measure, and creating a voucher program to subsidize private-school tuition for low-income students.

While Mr. Corbett had said he'd like to see a shale bill on his desk by the year's end, his office issued a statement proclaiming it "a significant step" when the Senate sent a measure back to the House aimed at creating a conference committee.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote today to disagree with changes the Senate made to its shale measure, which will spark the panel's creation. The six-member committee likely will be appointed when lawmakers return next month.

Closed-door negotiations on a gas-drilling bill so far have failed to bridge several disputes between the two chambers and the Corbett administration.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said that those private discussions are on-going and that the administration would like to see resolution as soon as possible.

"I think with a good-faith effort by all we can find some resolution and have it done when we're back in January," said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, who first put forward the "impact fee" idea in the spring. "We haven't lost our goal. We didn't reach the date."

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai bristled at the suggestion last week that the unresolved shale measure and failed school-reform vote showed legislators unable to meet their goals.

"Marcellus has never been our issue. School reform has never been our issue. We didn't campaign on it. That's the governor's," Mr. Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, told reporters.

The House Republican leader and his spokesman each noted that this fall was the first time both chambers have approved significant overhauls to how Marcellus Shale drillers operate. "Now it's just getting the House and Senate to agree on the scope," said House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin.

After announcing on Wednesday that the House lacked the votes to approve a voucher pilot program, the Republican majority also was thwarted in a late-night attempt to expand a business tax credit for contributing to private-school scholarships and tweaking rules for charter schools.

Regardless of floor votes, the Corbett administration says it still will be urging the approval of a bill encompassing vouchers, charter-school reforms, tax credits for scholarship contributions and a revamped teacher-evaluation system.

"The House majority leader made a commitment to the governor that he had the votes and that he'd run the bill, so we hope he runs the bill," Mr. Harley said.

But, with two session days left for the House this year, lawmakers first will be aiming to tie up other loose ends.

A congressional redistricting bill that sailed swiftly through the Senate is among those items. That new map combines the districts of current Democratic U.S. Reps. Jason Altmire of McCandless and Mark Critz of Johnstown, and reconfigures some eastern districts in a way that has drawn heated criticism.

A bill authorizing $1.7 billion in state borrowing for capital projects also remains unfinished. Stalled projects range from highway and bridge repairs to local redevelopment plans, and have drawn scrutiny from some conservative legislators.

Laura Olson: or 1-717-787-4254.


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