HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — 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. The bill passed, 119-80. The House then adjourned, possibly for the summer, after passing a final budget-related bill to the Senate, which could return next week to address it.
House Human Services Committee Chairman Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, won the 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.
Earlier Wednesday, Corbett had attacked lawmakers behind the maneuver 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.
On Sunday, 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.
House Democrats say the Philadelphia schools bill was all but dead at the hands of House Republican leaders until DiGirolamo asked for a vote on it as part of his discussion to spring the pension bill from his committee.
"We're not making deals, but that was important to me that we get a vote on that, very important because I live right next to Philadelphia," DiGirolamo said.