The Pennsylvania House of Representatives ended part of an embarrassing state fiscal crisis early yesterday by approving a $5.1 billion budget, but the vote didn't end the dispute that will continue to court future impasses - whether or not the state should raise taxes.
The state had been without a budget for nearly eight weeks, before yesterday's 102-to-89 vote, causing state employees and welfare recipicents to go without checks.
The political struggle was marked by noisy demonstrtions at the Capitol building in Harrisburg, death threats against the Houe chamber, and fisticuffs among legislators on the House floor.
The new battle will face the legislature when it returns Sept. 26 from the vacation it adjourned for right after the budget vote.
The budget that was passed funds generals state operations, while leaving unfunded $300 million in "nonpreferred items." such as state-related colleges, private colleges and medical schools.
The Democratic leadership had tried to sell its proposals as a "no-tax budget." But Democrats and Republicans agree that new taxes will be needed to raise the money for the "nonpreferred" items that traditionally have been included in state spending plans.
The problem is hthat not many Democrats, and virtually no Republications, are willing to vote for new taxes. Indeed> many of the Democrats who voted for the general appropriatiuons measure have vowed to vote against raising taxes to pay for the items left out of the approved budget.
Complicating matters further are the positions taken - or not taken - by the powerful state business and labor lobbies. For example, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which claims to represent 80,00 of the state's 106,000 state workers, now quite happy with the Democrat's porposal.
"It involves no tax increases whatsoever," an AFSCME spokesman said of the measure, and "it enables our people to continueworking. . ."
The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce opposed by budget calling for an immediate or eventual tax increase, mich to the chargin of Philadelphia politicians who said new taxes are needed to help the city's financially strapped school system. Also, Philadelphia has a healty share of the state-related colleges and medical money until the legislature comes up with the $300 million.
The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce traveled the middle road.
"It's quite a ticklish situation for our organization," said John Dankosky, a lobbyist for the group. "There are a lot of people in the state business community who genuinely believe no new taxes are needed. Then, there are some of our members who believe $300 million in new taxes won't impose an oncrous burden because it won't affect the business community all that much."
What it all boils down to "is a big mess," according to one weary lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Retailers Association.