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Governor Wolf won't predict whether state will avoid another budget fiasco

| Monday, June 6, 2016, 11:35 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers returned to work Monday in Harrisburg with weeks left to avert a repeat of last year's budget fiasco, a process that was not resolved until Gov. Tom Wolf let budget legislation become law without his signature in March and April.

Wolf, a Democrat, won't predict whether talks with the Republican-controlled Legislature will produce a budget by the time the fiscal year kicks off on July 1.

“I wouldn't be someone to make a prediction,” Wolf said as he left his Capitol offices. He said negotiators were “moving” and “trying to get things to the point where we're not here for a long time this year.”

The governor has proposed a $33.3 billion spending plan that would increase funding for schools, public pensions, human services and prisons. It would be paid for mostly with an 11 percent increase in the state's personal income tax, from 3.07 percent to 3.4 percent, along with higher taxes on gas drilling, gambling, insurance premiums, tobacco products and cable TV.

Republicans balked at tax increases last year and hope to reap significant savings from changes to the state's two major public-sector pension plans for state workers and teachers. All 203 seats in the House and half of the 50-seat Senate are on the ballot in November.

Groups that represent public school administrators and business officials said a survey of their members indicated 85 percent of districts plan to increase property taxes, about half expect to cut or scale back academic programs and activities, nearly half plan job cuts and a strong majority will be increasing class size.

The study by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials said the 2015-16 impasse forced 48 districts to borrow money to operate and caused more than 140 districts to lower, delay or renegotiate vendor payments.

Wolf said he had not seen the study but recognized the effect that state policymakers have had on local schools.

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