HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania lawmakers returned to the Capitol for a sixth consecutive day Saturday as the Republican majority seeks to wrap up an on-time state budget and secure victories for Gov. Tom Corbett's legislative agenda.
Time is running out.
The new fiscal year begins Monday, and House and Senate leaders are hoping not only to pass a $28.3 billion budget by Sunday's deadline but to strike agreements on major legislation to allow the private sale of wine and liquor and generate billions of dollars for roads, bridges and mass transit agencies primarily by increasing motor fuel taxes.
Saturday's session got off to a slow start, as repeated postponements by House and Senate leaders pushed the opening of floor voting sessions from early afternoon to evening while lobbyists, activists, reporters and tourists milled about in the Capitol rotunda as the hours dragged on.
Rep. Glen Grell, R-Cumberland, assessed the chances of resolving all the major issues before legislators break for the summer as "pretty good," but said then again, "it could all fall apart in a heartbeat."
Corbett has kept a low profile at the Capitol all week. Legislative leaders were meeting behind closed doors into Saturday evening and giving few details about their discussion. Meanwhile, voting sessions stretching into Monday and Tuesday appeared increasingly likely.
In the House, dozens of amendments were lined up in anticipation of a debate on a bill that would increase the oil company franchise tax to help generate a nearly $2 billion annual increase for highways, bridges, mass transit and other transportation programs. Debate will be on a version endorsed by the House Transportation Committee that is less expensive than a $2.5 billion Senate-passed alternative that would tap the same wholesale tax. Both versions would increase an assortment of motorist fees and fines.
Corbett, who campaigned on a no-new-taxes pledge, opened the door to increasing the tax by making it the centerpiece of the $1.8 billion plan he advanced in February. Senate leaders have made transportation funding a top priority, but a consensus in the more conservative House has been elusive.