HARRISBURG—The end could be near. State leaders say they are on the brink of passing a state budget. In fact, it could happen as early as today.
Those leaders have good reason to be cautiously optimistic. Twice in the past month or so, leaders thought they had a budget agreed upon, but those agreements fell through. Now, they feel like they are on the brink, possibly just hours away from a signed product.
The process has been long and it's been slow, but Pennsylvania could be nearing the end of its 100 day budget stalemate.
"It's a good budget for Pennsylvania at this point in time in the economy," said Representative Mike Sturla, (D) Lancaster County.
The House passed the $27.8 billion spending plan Wednesday night, setting up a vote in the Senate. Yesterday, staffers at the Capitol worked furiously to prepare the budget for that vote today.
Along with the budget bill, the full Senate will vote on a companion bill worth $1.5 billion. That is money coming from some of the state's reserve funds. It will be used to help close a piece of the of the shortfall left behind by declining revenues.
"The real issue in this very dark economic time for the country is that Pennsylvania stabilizes it's human resources system, guarantees the benefits to those who need it, but also be conservative in our approach," said House Majority Leader Representative Todd Eachus.
"In a tough economy, with a tough budget, we were able to preserve some of those programs and there are some tough decisions in this budget," said Sturla.
But not everyone is excited about the end product. House Republicans were never on board with the plan. They say it raises taxes on businesses and doesn't cut enough.
"It's ashame it took so long to get this point. It's better than the $29.1 billion the House Democrats had but it's still not as good as what we had," said Representative John Bear, (R) Lancaster County.
But still, they admit, a budget needs to be passed.
"We do have to move forward. We have to get this passed. We have to work on what we can do and at this point in time, we have to see what happens in the Senate and move on from there," said Representative Sheryl Delozier, (R) Cumberland County.
And of course, a signed budget would mean relief for many social service programs and school systems that rely on the state government for money. Once signed, the Governor has said top priority programs would start seeing there checks within 4 to 6 days. Most programs would have check-in-hand in 10 days.