Pennsylvania’s lawmakers expect to spend this weekend not at the beaches or the mountains, but in Harrisburg.
After a week of gridlock at the state capitol, lawmakers are bracing for Saturday and Sunday sessions to pass Gov. Tom Corbett’s $28.4 billion budget proposal and debate some of his top initiatives.
The deadline for the budget is 11:59 p.m. Sunday. The budget is before the Senate, the House having passed it.
Policy initiatives such as a transportation funding bill, pension overhaul and liquor privatization, none of which directly affect the general operating budget, may wait until the fall session.
On Thursday, the House transportation committee approved by a 16-9 vote a funding package that raises $1.8 billion to the Department of Transportation over five years by uncapping the oil company franchise tax and increasing some motor vehicle fees.
The measure, which the full House was scheduled to debate Friday, also phases out the debt-burdened Pennsylvania Turnpike’s required $450 million payment to the state Department of Transportation – known commonly as Act 44 -- over eight years. It would immediately stop the $200 million annual portion directed to roads and bridges while continuing the $250 million for mass transit through fiscal 2021. Vehicle sales tax receipts would then replace the transit funding.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and his predecessor, Jack Wagner, have warned about the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s rising debt – now at about $7.5 billion.
Meanwhile, preliminary hearings began this week in the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg in the pay-to-play trial of six defendants charged exchanging turnpike contracts for political donations.