2009-08-06 / Local & State

Stalled Pa. Budget No Closer After 2-Hour Talks

By Mark Scolforo ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - State budget negotiators expressed frustration at their lack of progress Sunday following a closed-door, two-hour meeting that left the sides as far apart as ever.

Any hopes of a breakthrough in the standoff, now entering its second month, were dashed after high-ranking lawmakers drove away in disappointment from Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's official residence along the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said Democrats presented him and his colleagues with what he described as a 13-page "must-have list'' of items they insist be included in the final budget. Republicans said paying for all those items would require about $1.6 billion in new taxes, and they are determined not to agree to increasing the personal income tax or sales tax rates.

Last month, the Democraticcontrolled House passed a $29.1 billion spending plan that would require tax increases, and the Republican controlled Senate approved a $27.1 billion proposal that would cut programs and tap reserve funds but not increase taxes.

The next development in the budget battle is expected to occur on Monday, when Democratic leaders in the state House plan to call up a Republicanpenned bare-bones budget that passed the Senate on a party line vote about three months ago.

Democrats hope to pass that bill on Tuesday without any changes and send it to Rendell. The governor would then use his line item veto authority to pare it down drastically but leave in place the money and authority to pay state workers.

If that occurs, state employees would be paid several days later and would collect back pay that has accrued for the past month. Some of the state's tens of thousands of workers haven't received their full paychecks since July 1.

On Saturday, Rendell told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he was unwilling to abandon his proposed increase in the personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.57 percent.

"It's not off the table because it's the best way to get this done,'' Rendell said, adding that he will consider other tax options but felt he has cut as much as possible.

The governor described Sunday's meeting as a last-ditch effort to negotiate a deal.

"We tried very hard to meet them on a spending number,'' he told the paper.

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