PA House Approves New State Budget
Republicans call spending plan responsible; Democrats decry social service cuts.
The Pennsylvania Senate is expected to vote on Friday on a $27.66-billion spending plan that holds the line on taxes for the new fiscal year, which begins on Sunday. The state House of Representatives approved the measure by a vote of 120-81 on Thursday night, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The new budget increases spending by less than 2 percent over this year's budget, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported.
The spending plan maintains current funding for public schools and colleges. However, it eliminates the state Department of Public Welfare's cash assistance program and cuts $84 million—half of what Gov. Tom Corbett had proposed cutting for county-provided human services.
The budget also includes a tax break that could exceed $1.7 billion for Royal Dutch Shell PLC's natural gas "cracker plant" in Monaca, Beaver County. Gov. Corbett has been pushing for the tax incentive, saying that the plant will provide thousands of temporary construction jobs and thousands more in permanent positions and spinoff industries.
Republicans who control both the state House and Senate described the budget deal with Republican Gov. Corbett as a sensible and responsible spending plan.
Democrats accused Republicans of sitting on a surplus that could be tapped to prevent some social service cuts and provide more money for public schools, the Beaver County Times reported.
"My advice to Pennsylvanians ... is don't get old, don't get sick, don't try to educate kids, don't be unlucky enough to be disabled, don't try to find a job, don't try to catch a bus," said Rep. Joe Markosek, of Monroeville, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
"Out of the 500 school districts (in Pennsylvania), 16 of them received more money," Schmotzer said in an address to fellow House members, showing dissatisfaction. "That's 3 percent.
"Last year, in 2011, the rate of inflation was 3.16 percent. Based on this new word 'level funding,' which I never heard of until I got to Harrisburg, that means my school district, Baldwin-Whitehall, which receives about $9 million in state subsidies, is going to, because of inflation, receive about $300,000 in real money less."
The state is expected to have an almost $400-million surplus at the end of next fiscal year, Republicans estimate.
The budget reverses all of the cuts that Corbett proposed making to state-related universities, including the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University, as well as to the 14 schools in the State System of Higher Education, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. It also puts back all of the $100 million that Corbett sought to cut in grants that school districts use to finance kindergarten and other early-childhood-education programs.
For public school classroom operations, the budget deal would increase funding slightly overall; although, most of the extra money would be destined for financially struggling districts.
Readshaw had a mixed reaction to the state's budget.
"The good news concerning the budget is that it does not raise state taxes," Readshaw said. "The governor's original budget was drastic, and in some cases, heartless to many agencies. The final budget increased the amounts of money spent because of increased state revenues that were collected.
"The proposed budget eliminates the state Department of Public Welfare's cash assistance program and cuts $84 million for county-provided human services—along with many other continued reductions. Also, it does not reinstitute any reductions from last year.
"The question is, 'Does the underfunding of education by the governor lead to higher school property taxes at the local level?'"
Every House Republican but one voted in favor of the budget on Thursday. Eleven Democrats joined them.
"The pain goes on," Kortz said in an address to fellow House members when referencing many parts of the budget, including transportation and tax breaks. "We have not even addressed transportation. We've had three bridges fall down in this state in the last five years, we've got 5,380 structurally deficient, we have 50 shut down, and we haven't addressed this.
"The TFAC (Transportation Funding Advisory Commission) report came out nine months ago, and yet, nothing's been done. Do we have to wait to see another bridge fall down before we're gonna do something? I think this is wrong. We could have done better."
"And last but not least—the Marcellus Shale. We gave this away. This was a free pass to big gas."
This article originally appeared on the NorthHills Patch.
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