HARRISBURG -- After nearly a week of high-level private meetings, state budget negotiators say they have yet to agree how much the state should spend next year.
In wrangling over that figure, the two sides appear to be about $233 million apart in how much money they believe the state should have left over at the end of next fiscal year.
The plan that passed the Senate in May would leave about $267 million in the general fund coffers next June. Gov. Tom Corbett has pushed for ending next year with a cushion of about $500 million.
"That's obviously the range," Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said Monday morning as he left a meeting of top Republican lawmakers, the governor and members of their staffs. "I would think we're going to have to go up and he's going to have to come down."
The governor told reporters after a lunchtime appearance in Harrisburg that the difference in how much the two proposals leave for the following year is "part of the equation."
Mr. Scarnati said he believes that Mr. Corbett is "moving a bit" on his $500 million position. As he left the morning negotiating session, Mr. Corbett said the higher-than-expected revenue collections since his February budget proposal may allow him to agree to spend more in certain areas.
"I believe based upon the numbers we have that I'm going to be in a position that I will be able to increase some funding in some categories," he said. "I'm not going to get into what the categories are right now."
Mr. Scarnati described the overall discussion as progressing in "baby steps" so far: "We're poised to make a big breakthrough."
"It's been a very tiring conversation and one that we need to finalize soon to move forward with all the other issues that, as we know, surround the budget," Mr. Scarnati added.
The governor also pointed to outstanding policy issues, though declined to single out any he will insist must be done this month: "There's a lot of legislation we'd like to see done before they go home."
The discussions so far have touched on various areas of education reform, according to participants, with House Republican leaders advocating for the expansion of a scholarship program that offers tax credits to businesses in exchange for donations and the creation of a parallel program targeted at students from the lowest-performing schools.
Asked on Monday about education reform, Mr. Corbett said the talks have included teacher evaluations, charter schools and funding for special education.
Mr. Scarnati said the talks also have included the proposed $1.65 billion tax credit for Shell and other companies that build ethane-processing facilities. His office has drafted a measure for the tax credit, he said, but he has not yet reviewed it.
The governor defended that proposed tax credit as similar in size to the state's annual tax credit for filmmakers who work in Pennsylvania, and part of an effort to "reindustrialize" the commonwealth.
While emphasizing that the Shell tax credit would not have any effect on next year's finances because it wouldn't begin until 2017, Mr. Corbett said approval of the incentive is needed sooner rather than later in order to land the Shell facility.
"It is important to have right now," he said. "This is not a done deal. I keep trying to tamp everyone's expectations."