Pa. budget, related bills remain in Harrisburg limbo

State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (left) and Mayor Nutter say they are optimistic but not assured on passage of a Philadelphia cigarette tax. MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer
State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (left) and Mayor Nutter say they are optimistic but not assured on passage of a Philadelphia cigarette tax. MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 09, 2014

HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania budget deadline has come and gone, with critical pieces of legislation still in limbo - including the fiscal blueprint itself and the much-anticipated Philadelphia cigarette tax - and tension rising again in the Capitol.

A week after its passage by the legislature, Gov. Corbett has yet to sign the $29.1 billion general appropriations bill for 2014-15. Nor has the General Assembly finalized a key budget-related bill - the fiscal code - that directs spending for schools and hundreds of other items.

Corbett has until Friday to sign or veto all or part of the budget. Without his signature, it takes effect immediately.

"The governor is reviewing his options," Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said.

The governor's inaction is causing friction with his GOP allies in the legislature.

"We think the governor needs to sign the budget and move forward," House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said Monday in an impromptu session with reporters. "This is a responsible budget for the needs of the citizens of Pennsylvania, while also protecting taxpayers."

Meanwhile, the Senate, which returns Tuesday, must give final approval to the fiscal code and the municipal code, containing the cigarette tax - both of which the House amended.

Drew Crompton, legal counsel and chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson), said Republican leaders in the Senate had not yet decided how to proceed with a handful of budget-related bills, including the fiscal code.

Part of the problem, he said, is that "we have gotten no feedback whatsoever from the governor's office."

"It's very difficult to sit here and say what the right course of action is when people are being obviously silent," Crompton said.

Senate GOP leaders say they are concerned about modifications by the House to the municipal code, which contains the cigarette tax of $2 per pack, and the fiscal code.

"They made very significant subtractions, less significant additions," said Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware). "We will look at those tomorrow and see where members are on this."

New changes by the Senate to either code would set the stage for a showdown with the House and hold up hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending.

At issue for Pileggi is the House's removal of an adjustment on the bank shares tax, based on capital stock owned by banks, which is worth $40 million over two years. Pileggi said it was not replaced with other funding in the House-approved version.

Another sticking point is the House's removal of up to $80 million in tax credit funding for urban areas as part of the city revitalization improvement zone (CRIZ) program, Pileggi said.

Turzai said additional tax credit funding was not agreed upon by both chambers.

Caught in the mix - as it was last week - is the cigarette tax, which passed with bipartisan support in both chambers.

Mayor Nutter was expected to return to Harrisburg on Tuesday to make his case before the Senate, if needed.

Nutter and Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Phila.), who wrote the bill, said Monday that while the cigarette tax's passage looked smooth, it was not assured.

"It's not over until it's over," Williams said at a news conference outside Nutter's office at City Hall.

"We are very close, but we're still not done," Nutter said.

Pileggi was cautiously optimistic about passage of the bill, which Corbett has said he would sign.

"We have a strong vote on the cigarette tax amendment and bill that carries it," Pileggi said. "We haven't had a change to parse through what the House has added or subtracted."

But, he added, "there is always reason to be concerned until the governor signs the bill."

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