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Expect drawn-out state budget impasse, Pa. political analysts say | TribLIVE.com
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Expect drawn-out state budget impasse, Pa. political analysts say

Brad Bumsted
| Wednesday, July 1, 2015 11:36 p.m
WolfMeetsPress
Brad Bumsted | Trib Total Media
Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders talk to reporters during a break from discussing budget matters on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.
DaveReed
Brad Bumsted | Trib Total Media
House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, talks with reporters after meeting Wednesday, July 1, 2015, with Gov. Tom Wolf about budget, pension and liquor issues.

HARRISBURG — A deep ideological divide between Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf portends a protracted budget impasse without a state spending plan in place, political analysts said Wednesday.

“The Republicans are acting like Republicans, and Wolf is acting like the progressive Democratic liberal he is,” said Colleen Sheehan, a political science professor at Villanova University and former GOP House member.

More than a battle over issues, it’s a standoff between “believers,” she said. “This is the divide in America today. We are at a crossroads.”

“I see it being a protracted problem. It just seems ideologies on the two sides are just too far apart,” said J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester.

Wolf and GOP leaders met briefly the day after Wolf vetoed a Republican-crafted state budget of $30.1 billion with no new taxes. The governor wants an extraction tax on natural gas drilling to help fund education, and higher income and sales taxes to pay for property tax reductions. Republicans want liquor store privatization and legislation to curb public pension benefits.

Wolf reported “some progress” after the meeting; the next one will be on Monday.

“We have to reconcile our ideas,” said House Majority Leader David Reed, R-Indiana. “… Eventually we’ll get this done.”

Analysts anticipate a lengthy dispute “because of how deep the ideological differences are,” said Jack Treadway, retired chairman of the political science department at Kutztown State University. He predicted an impasse could last until October.

Supporters of both sides, by and large, don’t want them to compromise, he said. Hard-core Democrats wanted Wolf to veto the GOP budget, and staunch GOP supporters wanted lawmakers to challenge the governor, he said.

The state lost its authority to spend money when the fiscal year began Wednesday.

Wolf has less leverage to shape public opinion, analysts said, because of court decisions holding that state employees must be paid and that essential services must continue even with a budget impasse.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell furloughed “non-essential” state employees for one day; briefly closed state parks; and at one point claimed a GOP spending proposal would result in the layoffs of 800 state troopers. But in that 2009 budget impasse — lasting 101 days — it wasn’t until August that many small nonprofits getting state grants felt the pinch; it was September before school districts ramped up complaints.

“You really don’t have the full pressure” from affected parties, said Leckrone. “It takes the urgency away.”

Unlike Rendell, Wolf sent assurances to the public that there won’t be a crisis.

Reed said he believes some human service providers will be affected this month.

Both sides are emboldened because they believe they have mandates from voters.

“The governor and the Legislature think they have the will of the people behind them,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. Republicans returned to Harrisburg after the Nov. 4 election with larger majorities, and Wolf defeated GOP incumbent Tom Corbett.

“At the moment,” said G. Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, “there appears to be no give-and-take — anywhere.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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