Corbett, Republicans inch closer to state budget agreement
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HARRISBURG -- After nearly a week of private high-level meetings, state budget negotiators say they have yet to reach agreement on how much the state should spend next year.
The two sides appear to be about $233 million apart: 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," said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, as he left this morning's meeting among top Republican lawmakers, the governor, and 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 exited his office, Mr. Corbett declined to say where the numbers stand, but did say he anticipates agreeing 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 talks generally as resulting 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," he added.
The governor also pointed to outstanding policy issues, though declined to single out any as ones he will insist must be done this month: "There's a lot of legislation we'd like to see done before they go home."
Asked about education reform, Mr. Corbett said the discussions have touched upon teacher evaluations, charter schools and funding for special education.
Mr. Scarnati said the talks have included the proposed $1.65 billion tax credit for Shell and other companies that build ethane-processing facilities. His office has draft language on a measure to create that tax credit, he said, but he has not yet reviewed it.
While emphasizing that the Shell tax credit would not have any effect on next year's finances because it wouldn't begin until 2017, the governor said approval of the incentive is needed sooner rather than later.
"It is important to have right now," he said. "This is not a done deal. I keep trying to tamp everyone's expectations."
First Published June 11, 2012 1:43 pm