Pennsylvania Republicans Say They May Raise Taxes for Education

But budget impasse can be resolved, they say, only if Gov. Wolf gives in on pensions.

After a summer-long impasse between Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislators, it appears a compromise on the Pennsylvania state budget could be in the offing.

GOP leaders said Wednesday they would be willing to grant Wolf’s biggest wish — to raise taxes and increase state funding to schools by $400 million. But, PennLive reports, they have a condition: Approval of a state pensions reform package that Wolf has already vetoed.

“The significance of this, I think, can’t be stated enough. This is a huge move,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County.

“We started these conversations with the idea that I would be willing to make some big concessions and compromises on pensions which is important to them, I need them to move into my camp on education and so they’ve done I think a pretty good job there,” Wolf told PennLive.

The sudden move toward compromise was a bit of a surprise: The day started with Jeffrey Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman, emailing reporters to blame Republicans for the continuing deadlock. “Republican leaders have consistently demonstrated they are not willing to engage in substantive discussions to make progress,” Sheridan said.

A few hours later, Wolf emerged from a brief meeting with legislative leaders and said, “I think we’re making progress.”

The apparent progress comes just weeks before the 2015-16 school year is scheduled to begin across the state, leaving officials distressed about their own unsettled budgets. Delaware County educators held a press conference Tuesday to call attention to the situation.

“Without the budget, we have no idea how much money we’ll receive or when we’ll receive it. Our bills won’t wait for this to be settled,” Chichester School District Superintendent Kathleen Sherman told reporters.

Non-profit social service organizations that rely on state funding to provide services are also starting to feel the pinch.

Kristen Rotz, president of the United Way of Pennsylvania, said agencies that provide food, shelter and other assistance to the needy, neglected and disabled already are cutting services at a rate she did not expect,” the Herald-Mail reported. “A survey by a group of nonprofits of 312 organizations in Pennsylvania found that more than a quarter of them expect to curtail services in August, Rotz said.”

Wolf had signaled late last week that he was ready to compromise on pensions for state employees, sending state legislators a document that mostly followed Republican proposals for reducing that state’s pension obligations by up to $17 billion. The proposal, though, is likely to draw opposition from state public employee unions and their Democratic allies.

“We have made it clear that changes to current employee benefits are unconstitutional (and) unfair to the retirement security that working Pennsylvanians have earned and paid for,” David Broderic the Pennsylvania State Education Association told AP.

Wolf told reporters he hoped to return to budget negotiations on Tuesday.

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