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HARRISBURG - The wait itself has been taxing, but not nearly as taxing as the proposal which may finally be under discussion in private state budget talks. For weeks, lawmakers seemed to intentionally avoid the sensitive tax issue through protracted spending discussions and partisan squabbling. But when 10,000 state workers went without paychecks last Friday, it became clear the budget "problem" had escalated into a crisis while legislators enjoyed the July 4 holiday. "No one wants to stop addressing spending and address the major issues," said House Minority Leader Matthew Ryan (R-Delaware Co.) as he entered Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer's (R-Blair) third-floor capitol office for Monday afternoon's discussions. "What I got [in last Wednesday's caucus] is that the Republicans are holding things up, not agreeing with the budget we had passed and the tax plan we had passed," local Representative Harold James (D-Philadelphia) said. However, according to House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), a "tax menu" was served to those seated around the bargaining table, based on Governor Robert Casey's original tax proposal. Like his spending plan, Casey's tax proposal is likely to undergo drastic changes. The governor's original spending measures called for a $18.6 million cut in the University's state appropriation, while a recent House of Representatives proposal stood at a level $5 million below last year's funding amount. According to Evans, large cuts to non-preferred institutions like the University will "more than likely" not change. Yet until dozens of House and Senate votes in favor of a tax hike materialize, even that money is in doubt. "I think it is safe to assume you're getting nothing absent non-preferred tax funding," said House Education Committee Chairperson Ronald Cowell (D-Allegheny), adding that he would vote in favor of a tax increase. "I think that a tax increase is inevitable if we're going to be responsible about our obligation," he said. Lawmakers said discussion of taxes outside of negotiations -- much less a final budget vote -- will not occur until at least next week, although a large voting session has been scheduled for tomorrow. Meanwhile, University lobbyists continue knocking on legislators' doors despite the fact the budget is now largely out of their hands. "There's a great deal of waiting, of being in the vicinity, of showing a presence, of being available if there are things to respond to," said James Shada, the University's Assistant Vice President for Commonwealth Relations. "This is a unique time of year."

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