Lawmakers Take Optimistic Approach to Solving Budget Crisis

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HARRISBURG -- Lawmakers now begin the months-long process of deciding what should be in the state budget and what shouldn't.

But this time around, Republicans have a large majority and seem to like what they heard from Governor Tom Wolf this year.

The previous two budget speeches from the governor were seen as much more adversarial than Tuesday's address.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle signaled that they can get behind the governor given the right mix of making government more efficient and finding a way to plug the massive budget gap.

Immediately after Governor Wolf made his pitch for next year's state budget, lawmakers joined their respective parties inside the State Capitol Rotunda, pledging to work together.

With no broad tax hikes among the governor's proposals, both Republicans and Democrats may have found common ground

"We know how hard it is for families. No broad-based tax increase helps families," said Rep. Rosemary Brown, (R) 189th District.

High on the governor's priorities is cutting potentially $2 billion in state government costs by consolidating agencies, but some lawmakers are taking a cautious approach to such a drastic move.

"I don't know until I see figures how far we can go with this," said Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, (D) 121st District. "I think everyone agrees we want to cut out any fat. There should be no fat."

"It may not be exactly the plan the governor laid out," said Sen. John Yudichak, (D) 14th District. "I have some concerns about creating a mega-agency with Department of Human Services.

A severance tax on the natural gas industry is back on the table again and lawmakers in the Marcellus Shale region aren't ruling out supporting it but want to ensure the impact fee money stays as is.

"We must maintain money coming in from impact fee as part of the severance tax because that money is very important to our municipalities, counties, and state agencies," said Rep. Garth Everett, (R) 84th District.

Most of all, Republicans who've been at odds with Governor Wolf from day one seem to believe this budget process will be different, based on the governor's tone and a veto-proof majority in the senate.

"I'm sure that has a lot to do with veto-proof senate but we'll never know for sure," said Sen. David Argall, (R) 29th District.

Two big hurdles still plague the General Assembly, and have for years: pension reform and property tax reform. Both of those issues have been nearly impossible for both sides to agree on.

However, if the governor's speech and lawmakers' responses are any indications, this is not a normal budget year.

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