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Quiet Pennsylvania Capitol gives no hope for quick budget agreement, end of stalemate

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania government's first full week without a state budget began quietly Monday, with no crush of activity in the Capitol aimed at ending the partisan stalemate and no results from a meeting between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and two top Republican lawmakers.

Aides reported no progress from the lunch meeting between Wolf and the House and Senate GOP leaders, Rep. Dave Reed and Sen. Jake Corman. Meanwhile, an exchange of political potshots between the sides did nothing to convince anyone that the deadlock will end before August, if not September.

No additional meetings were immediately scheduled. The House and Senate also were not set to reconvene any time this month.

"I think people are definitely worried," said Kristen Rotz, president of the United Way of Pennsylvania. "It's looking like this could be a long impasse. It's hard to tell at this point. It seems like the Legislature and the governor are pretty far apart."

Many United Way agencies that provide children and family services would expect to start feeling the pinch of the impasse in the third or fourth week of July, Rotz said.

Bernadette Bianchi, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services, said providers of foster care and group homes in an already underfunded system for abused and neglected children are very anxious.

In 2009, when an impasse stretched into October, council member agencies borrowed to their limit, dug into endowments, borrowed from each other and some agency executives took out personal loans, Bianchi said.

"We don't want to go through that again," Bianchi said. "We will react more quickly and more directly this time around."

Last week, Wolf vetoed the GOP's $30.2 billion no-new-taxes budget package, saying it balanced by putting off payments for school construction and child welfare programs, shortchanged schools and deepened a long-term deficit that has damaged Pennsylvania's credit rating. No Democrats supported the bill.

Wolf is seeking a $31.6 billion budget package that includes higher taxes on income, sales and Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling. He would send about $600 million more to public schools, early childhood education and higher education, without payment delays.

Wolf also is seeking approval of a $3.2 billion property-tax cutting package that would rely on higher income and sales taxes. Movement on that has stalled in the Senate.

In Harrisburg, the sides showed no signs of compromise.

The four ranking Republican leaders in each house Monday signed a letter to Wolf saying that his veto of the GOP's budget plan "puts politics above governing" and that it's up to his administration to produce an alternative that lawmakers will support.

The budget proposal Wolf presented on March 3 "views the taxpayers as an endless source of money to be tapped to satisfy desires for more and more state government spending," they wrote.

In Philadelphia, a group linked to the Democratic Governors Association aired a radio ad critical of Republicans while Wolf's press secretary accused Republicans of protecting the drilling industry and failing school children.

"It is laughable that the legislative team that has given us multi-billion dollar deficits, annual fiscal crises and numerous credit downgrades are all of the sudden responsible fiscal stewards," Wolf's press secretary Jeffrey Sheridan said.

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