Wolf, lawmakers prepare to resume talks after Democratic governor vetoes GOP budget bill



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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Gov. Tom Wolf sought to restart budget talks with legislative leaders Wednesday, less than a day after he vetoed a $30.2 billion Republican-crafted spending plan that every Democrat voted against.

Wolf invited House and Senate negotiators to his Capitol offices for an afternoon session, seeking to find a way to bridge the vast gap between the budget he wants, which would raise taxes and substantially increase education funding, and the GOP plan that had no new taxes and much more modest school spending.

The first-term Democrat's written veto message sent to the House late Tuesday illustrated the challenge they face in looking for a deal. Republicans hold substantial majorities in both chambers, and there has been little evidence the sides are anywhere near a compromise.

"The citizens of Pennsylvania sent us here to do serious work and to address problems facing this commonwealth," Wolf said in the veto message, repeating the policy objectives he has outlined for months — money for schools from a tax on natural gas drilling, cuts in local school property taxes, job creation efforts and what he calls "a solution to fix the structural budget deficit."

"This bill fails to accomplish these essential tasks, so I cannot give it my approval," he said.

Wolf has not said whether he'll sign liquor privatization and public-sector pension changes that also passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Tuesday.

Republicans said House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, would attend along with his party's whip, Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster. Other leaders were expected to join by phone.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Tuesday night that Wolf's action disappointed him and argued the governor should put forward something lawmakers can pass. The GOP budget, which proposed a $1.1 billion spending increase, would have added money for rising pension and health care costs and $200 million more for education.

"The governor owns this now," the Centre County Republican said. "The General Assembly put up the votes to pass a balanced budget. He owns the fact that we don't have a budget now, and we will wait for him to offer a new plan."

The halls of the Capitol, teeming with people a day earlier, were relatively quiet Wednesday morning, and some lawmakers were wondering what happens next.

Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, said he would not be surprised if the budget standoff lasted for months, perhaps to the end of 2015.

Wolf "wants his views to be taken into consideration," Cohen said. "People are not looking for the fifth year of the Corbett administration."

Wolf beat Republican Tom Corbett in the November election, denying him a second term.

Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said he has not seen much sign of compromise from Wolf since he took office in January.

"They haven't given on anything," Benninghoff said. "Do I think that we can come to some negotiations on a budget? That depends what the will is."

The veto of the entire budget bill, rather than using line-item authority to eliminate parts of it, had not occurred in the state for at least 40 years.

The absence of a budget as the new fiscal year began was not expected to have an immediate effect on services because agencies can tap surpluses and special funds, but the situation could deteriorate if the impasse drags on. The state has lost the authority to pay its vendors for work done now that the state's new fiscal year has begun.

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