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Pa. House GOP member: 'There aren't enough of us' to block tax hike

| Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, 2:22 p.m.
Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township
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Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township
The Pennsylvania Capitol's Main Rotunda on Nov. 19, 2015.
Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
The Pennsylvania Capitol's Main Rotunda on Nov. 19, 2015.

HARRISBURG — Republicans who control the House met behind closed doors Monday to discuss a $30.8 billion Senate-approved budget supported by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, with some GOP members vowing to fight and others predicting the five-month fight may soon be over.

Entering the 168th day of the budget impasse on Tuesday, the House inched toward consideration of a “framework” announced last month by Wolf, Senate Republicans and House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana.

Resolving the budget stalemate that began July 1 “is a matter of what happens in the House,” Wolf said. Wolf on Monday avoided criticism of the House GOP Caucus, despite other Democrats and his own press secretary blasting the caucus last week.

Social service providers see their budgets drying up, and a major credit rating agency, Standard & Poor's, on Friday withdrew ratings, which could prevent the state's poorest school districts from getting more loans to stay open.

The key question House Republicans must answer: how to pay for the budget that requires at least $1.2 billion in new revenue.

“How are they going to fund it?” said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.

House Republicans have balked at raising taxes more than $1 billion and that the Senate did not forward a revenue bill. The “framework” included pension and liquor reform, but many GOP members say the liquor bill has been substantially watered down.

But leaders in both chambers said they are committed to getting the budget package done this week.

“I think they are making baby steps toward resolution,” said Senate Republican General Counsel Drew Crompton, who is chief of staff to Senate President Pro tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County.

On Tuesday, Rep. Steve Bloom, R-Cumberland County, moves in a different direction. He plans to introduce a 10-month “rescue budget” that immediately directs money to human services and school districts and doesn't raise taxes. The $26 billion budget would end May 1, 2016. Bloom said he has 31 co-sponsors.

“I remain absolutely convinced taxpayers sent me to the Capitol to protect them against Governor Wolf's ($1 billion-plus) tax hike,” Bloom said.

A conservative Western Pennsylvania House member, Rick Saccone, a Republican from Elizabeth Township, agrees with Bloom on blocking Wolf's taxes but he said it appears House Republicans are prepared to capitulate to Wolf and his “lust for spending.”

“I'm fed up; I'm just fed up,” Saccone told reporters. “It looks like we're going to vote that (Senate) budget.”

The House last week approved a $30.2 billion budget that would not rely on new taxes.

“How can we vote for a spending increase (in the Senate plan) without knowing how we are going to pay for it? Nobody's told us what it's going to be,” said Saccone, a co-sponsor of Bloom's “rescue budget.”

Lawmakers have discussed a sales tax — raising the rate by 1 percentage point and/or extending the tax to new items and transactions.

“There aren't enough of us” to block it, Saccone said, suggesting 20 or so Republicans could join with 84 House Democrats to raise taxes.

“This is the Thermopylae of politics right now,” said Saccone, referring to the 480 B.C. battle in which outnumbered Spartans held at bay Persian forces for three days.

Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for Reed, said he “isn't aware” of 20 Republicans who would join Democrats. Other GOP staffers question whether every Democrat would vote for tax hikes.

“I believe our (GOP) leadership needs to send the Senate and governor a message that the majority of our caucus does not support raising taxes,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry. “We've proven you can do a budget without tax hikes,” he said. The message ought to be clear that the House GOP is the only caucus standing against the tax plan pushed by Wolf and Senate Republicans, Metcalfe said.

Metcalfe urges his colleagues to support an “emergency spending plan.”

Metcalfe's State Government Committee on Tuesday is likely to make changes to a Senate-passed pension plan. Some of those anticipated changes may be “problematic” of the intricacies of the framework agreement, Crompton said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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