NEPA lawmakers "cautiously optimistic" budget deal can be reached soon

Deadline for 2016-2017 spending plan is in ten days

SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) - It is once again state budget time in Harrisburg.

After a record-setting, nine month stalemate last year that ended only in March, lawmakers are once again back at the table, trying to get a deal by the June 30th deadline.

Non-profits and schools were hard hit during the last impasse. Many had to borrow money and they are still feeling the pain.

Both republican and democratic lawmakers tell Eyewitness News that they are "cautiously optimistic" that a deal can be reached before the deadline.

That deadline is now ten days away.

Meals on Wheels of Northeastern Pennsylvania prepares more than 800 dinners everyday.

After dealing with staff and pay reductions last winter, workers don't want to see budget deja vu.

"You almost feel like, wow, did we really get a break yet?" executive director Kristen Kosin said.

Both republican and democratic lawmakers say talks this year appear to be going much better than last year.

They point to deals already announced on liquor reform and pensions.

"The pieces are ready to come together. It's just the final negotiations that are ongoing," republican senator Lisa Baker said.

Democratic senator John Blake says what happened last year is shameful.

This year, he says a lot of the budget negotiations are centering around the republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Senator Blake says it appears as if gaming expansion may be on the table but a severance tax on natural gas drilling may not be.

He also says a "dollar-per-pack" tax on cigarettes is likely.

"I fear the product we're going to get, the budget we're going to get isn't really the one that the people of this state deserve and need," Senator Blake said.

Lawmakers say they saw the pain spread around over last year's nine month impasse and don't want a repeat.

"There is a spirit of lets get something done and let us have this thing done by the end of the month," republican representative Mike Peifer said.

That is something Kristen Kosin at Meals on Wheels hopes becomes reality.

"That spirit of cooperation is keeping a lot of us hopeful," Kosin said.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives returned to session Monday afternoon but there are currently no budget votes slated.

As for democratic governor Tom Wolf, he reportedly met with house democratic leaders Monday morning.

This year's budget debate is shaping-up to be different in another regard: elections.

Political experts say with many lawmakers on the ballot in November they will be looking to settle this year's budget early.


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