For the first time in his eight-year tenure, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell may sign a budget on time, as he announced Tuesday an agreement with the legislature that includes a new tax on natural-gas extraction.
The governor also said he would call for a special session to begin July 20 in order for the legislature to address the state’s $472.5 million transportation funding shortfall for fiscal 2011.
This is Rendell’s eighth and final budget before he leaves office in January.
The Democrat has never passed on on-time budget. Republicans control the Senate while Democrats have a majority in the House.
Bob Caton, spokesman for House Speaker Keith McCall, and Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, both said their chambers anticipate passing an appropriations bill by tonight that would then go to the governor for his consideration.
Last year, a budget stalemate lasted for months as lawmakers haggled over a table games bill that allowed for blackjack and other such gaming at the state’s slot casinos.
Rendell said that this year, lawmakers came together in a more collaborative fashion than in the past to work out a budget agreement.
“The leadership was responsible, they worked hard to get this done,” he said during a press conference on the budget agreement. “There was a spirit of cooperation that was present this year that was, in my eight years, unprecedented. So I want to commend all the leaders in all the four caucuses.”
The governor said that he asked the legislature to form a task force to analyze and map out details this summer of a tax on the extraction of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region that covers much of Pennsylvania and parts of New York, Virginia and West Virginia.
Rendell has been pushing for such a tax in order to raise additional revenue for the state and for local governments.
Lawmakers would then consider and vote on the initiative in October. If approved the state would begin imposing the tax in January.
Officials have yet to work out the size of the tax and allocation of revenue it raises between the state and the local governments.
The $29 billion fiscal 2011 budget will include $850 million of anticipated enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentages funding.
Congress has yet to approve extending FMAP funds for six months.
Rendell said that he and nearly 15 other governors will hold a press conference in Washington today to urge Congress and the administration to work out an agreement on the funds.
If Pennsylvania does not receive the FMAP funds or receives an amount less than $850 million, the governor said he and the Legislature would need to find additional cuts in the budget.
“If we do not get FMAP funds or if we do not get 100% of the FMAP extension, we’ll meet again and cooperatively decide what has to be cut,” Rendell said. “It is not a pretty picture.”
Arneson said that while the budget agreement is based on generalities, the Senate is anticipating passing a spending plan today.
“We have reached an agreement in principle,” Arneson said in an e-mail. “The details are still being committed to paper, and that process in recent history has not gone as smoothly as we would like, but we are optimistic that a spending plan can be presented to the governor for his signature” on Wednesday.