As Gov. Tom Corbett came out earlier this afternoon to sign a bill to make "bath salts" and other synthetic drugs illegal, Capitolwire.com dropped a story saying that part of his still-pending budget deal could have a problem.
The news service reports that Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has issued another letter, this time faulting a proposed change to a hospital assessment related to Medicaid reimbursement rates.
Hospitals began paying an assessment last year, in order to help the state meet a required match to draw down additional federal funds. Those funds are used to boost the hospitals' Medicaid reimbursements, resulting in most hospitals receiving more than they ante up.
But the state is short on funds again, and in order to keep receiving the federal funds, that assessment would need to be increased.
Norquist wrote to the governor and 34 lawmakers who signed his no-tax-hike pledge, saying that a vote for the higher assessment would break that promise.
"If the proposed hospital tax increase is included in the budget, it should be offset by some form of tax relief," he wrote in the letter. "Otherwise, Americans for Tax Reform will score any ‘yea’ vote by a Taxpayer Protection Pledge signer as a violation of the commitment they made to their constituents."
Corbett disagreed, saying that he wouldn't comment on the letter directly, but that his general view of the assessment was that it is a fee, not a tax.
He declined to get any more specific than that on any of the budget negotiations. Generally echoing his comments from Wednesday night, he said he and lawmakers have made "substantial progress," and that they are "waiting on details."
More talks are expected for today, in light of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi saying that a handshake agreement was needed by today in order to get all the bills moved by the deadline. Asked about the possibility for such an agreement timeline, Corbett replied: "I believe it could be possible by the end of the day.
His other talks, on state employee union contracts, appear to be going well. While details again are not yet available, the Patriot-News reported this morning that the governor's staff has reached a tentative agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest of those unions.