Both Sides Call For Budget Conference Committee To Meet, But They Don't

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Gov. Rendell this week both called for the Budget Conference Committee to meet, but they didn't.

The Conference Committee has not met since July 30, nearly three weeks ago.

As promised, Gov. Rendell sent furlough notices to 255 of the over 77,000 state workers to help reduce the state's operating expenses. The number of actual furloughs will not be known until Civil Service rules on "bumping" are applied to the positions.

The departments most affected by the furlough announcements are Revenue (85 furloughs), Agriculture (57), and executive agencies (31).

Farm Bureau President Carl T. Shaffer issued this statement on Gov. Rendell's job cuts in the Department of Agriculture--

"The decision to furlough 57 jobs from the State Department of Agriculture is disturbing news to Pennsylvania farmers. The Department employs less than 1 percent of all state employees, but will suffer 22 percent of Gov. Rendell’s announced 255 job cuts. This is hardly the fair share of program reductions that farmers said we will take to help deal with Pennsylvania’s grim economic situation.

"The lopsided cuts to the Department of Agriculture are especially discouraging when dairy producers and other farmers are struggling through their worst economic time in memory.

"Pennsylvania’s farmers have been appealing to the General Assembly for a modest restoration of $8 million for vital programs. It would bring agriculture funding back up to the level of belt tightening for other state programs. Unfortunately, the response of the Senate and House of Representatives has fallen short of our reasonable request.

"Farmers traditionally look for a small amount of resources for our farms from state government. In recent years we have been provided even less. One might wonder why Harrisburg sets such a low priority for our largest and most basic industry. We believe Pennsylvanians want decisions from lawmakers that preserve our safe, abundant and affordable food supply."

Gov. Rendell said the Conference Committee should reconvene, even if it means House Appropriations Majority Chair Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), who is now in George due to a death in the family, has to resign from the Committee and House Speaker Keith McCall (D-Carbon) takes his place.

A spokesperson for the Speaker's Office told Capitolwire the make up of the Conference Committee does not need to be addressed now for informal budget talks to proceed.

Sen. Scarnati said in spite of comments to the contrary, House Democrats and the Governor still have not taken a tax increase off the table and he said again the state can get through this year without an increase in any of the broad-based taxes.

Rep. Smith said House Democrats should bring a Tax Code bill up for a vote as soon as possible to see whether they have the votes to pass the tax increases needed to support their budget proposals.

"I think it's time that the House came back into session, pass their taxes if they've got the votes, and if they don't, then we need to take a serious look at a budget along the lines of what the House Republicans have been proposing," Rep. Smith said.

Veto Override?

The Senate and House have the opportunity to vote to override all or any number of the Governor's line item vetoes in Senate Bill 850. The Senate must act first by a two-thirds vote, followed by the House.

House Republicans have already called for action to override the Governor's veto of line items related to higher education grants and loans through PHEAA.



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