GOP leaders back Philly school bill
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania House Republican leaders lost battles on public pension legislation backed by Gov. Tom Corbett and a Philadelphia public schools bill on Wednesday as they tried to salvage a successful end to a rocky spring session before it dragged farther into summer.
They agreed to postpone a vote on the pension bill until the fall and then allowed a vote on separate legislation that would authorize Philadelphia to impose a $2 per-pack sales tax on cigarettes to help plug a crippling deficit in its schools’ budget. The bill passed, 119-80, before the House adjourned for the night.
House Human Services Committee Chairman Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, said he had commitments from GOP leaders Wednesday before he agreed to undo a procedural maneuver that had derailed a vote on the pension bill a day earlier.
Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, countered that putting off the pension bill until fall was a “soft commitment” because he and other members of House Republican leadership had come to realize that the legislation lacked the necessary support to pass.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia schools bill was already in line for a floor vote, Vereb said, after top Republicans and Democrats had worked for the previous 24 hours to assemble the necessary support for it.
The House adjourned for the night.
But a fight between House and Senate GOP leaders over a key budget-related bill that is stuffed with grants and special legislation guaranteed that each chamber will reconvene, probably next week, before lawmakers take their traditional summer break from Harrisburg.
The Philadelphia schools bill also will require one more vote in the Senate before it reaches Corbett’s desk.
Earlier Wednesday, Corbett had attacked lawmakers behind the Tuesday’s procedural maneuver on the pension bill as unable to “stand up to the special interests,” a reference to public-sector labor unions that had opposed the pension legislation because it pared back benefits for future state and public school employees. Corbett also had demanded another vote on it.
“Get the bill out of committee, bring it back up and let the people of Pennsylvania see who’s for them and who’s for the special interests,” Corbett said.
DiGirolamo objected to the “special interests” accusation and questioned the merit of the pension bill.
“It didn’t do anything at all to address the unfunded liability. There were no savings in there for school districts, there was no money in there or savings for the budget this year, for the budget next year, for the budget three years from now,” DiGirolamo told reporters. “I think we’ve got to get a different approach.”
For weeks, House GOP leaders had tried to win enough votes to pass the pension legislation. Now, their agreement to put off a pension vote until fall undercuts Corbett’s leverage to succeed this summer on a top priority, curbing Pennsylvania’s rising pension obligations.
Corbett has withheld his signature this week from a $29.1 billion budget bill on his desk, in part to try to spur action on the pension legislation.
However, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said earlier this week that the pension legislation does not have enough support to pass that chamber.
House GOP leaders had blocked the Philadelphia cigarette tax legislation in a bid to get city Democrats to flip their opposition to the pension legislation. Democrats did not, and DiGirolamo’s motion on Tuesday to send the pension bill to his committee passed 107-96, with support from 15 Republicans and all 92 Democrats.