A top state Senate Republican confirmed reports this morning that budget negotiators are trying to bridge a $233 million gap between what two competing plans would have left over at the end of next fiscal year.
The plan that passed the Senate in May would leave about $267 million in the general fund coffers next June. Gov. Tom Corbett has pushed for ending next year with a cushion of about $500 million.
"That’s obviously the range," said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, as he left this morning's meeting between top Republican lawmakers, the governor, and their staffs. "I would think we’re going to have to go up and he’s going to have to come down."
Scarnati said he believes that Corbett is "moving a bit" on his $500 million position. As he exited his office, Corbett declined to say where the numbers stand. But he said he anticipates agreeing to increase spending in certain areas.
"I believe based upon the numbers we have that I'm going to be in a position that I will be able to increase some funding in some categories," he said. "I'm not going to get into what the categories are right now."
Scarnati described the talks generally as resulting in "baby steps" so far: "We're poised to make a big breakthrough."
"It’s been a very tiring conversation and one that we need to finalize soon to move forward with all the other issues that, as we know, surround the budget," he added.
The governor also pointed to outstanding policy issues: "There's a lot of legislation we'd like to see done before they go home."
But he declined to identify his priorities for non-budget issues, saying: "If I tell them that, then I've negotiated against myself, haven't I."
Scarnati also declined to answer questions about which policy changes the administration most wants this month. Asked about education reform, Corbett said the discussions have touched upon teacher evaluations, charter schools and funding for special education.
Scarnati did say that the talks have included the proposed $1.65 billion tax credit for Shell and other companies that build ethane-processing facilities. He said his office has draft language on a measure to create that tax credit, but he has not yet reviewed it.