The state Senate is expected to vote today on a $27.66 billion dollar spending plan that holds the line on taxes for the new fiscal year, which begins Sunday. The house approved the measure by a vote of 120-81 Thursday night, the Post Gazette reported.
The new budget increases spending by less than 2 percent over this year’s budget, the 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 the governor had proposed cutting, for county-provided human services.
The bill also includes a tax break that could exceed $1.7 billion dollars for Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s natural gas “cracker plant” in Monaca, Beaver County. Gov. Corbett has been pushing for the tax incentive, saying the plant will provide thousands of temporary construction jobs and thousands more in permanent positions and spinoff industries.
Republicans who control both the House and Senate described the budget deal with Republican Gov. Corbett as a sensible and responsible spending plan.
"This is a fiscally responsible, but caring, prioritized budget," House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said in the final moments of the three hour debate.
Democrats accused the Republicans of sitting on a surplus that could be tapped to prevent some of the social service cuts and provide more money for public schools, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review 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 Allegheny County, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
The state is expected to have an almost $400 million surplus at the end of next year, Republicans estimate.
“Budgets aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet; they’re a statement of priorities and principles that affect real people," said , D-Cecil. "It’s not about how much you spend as it is how you spend it.
"I voted against the Corbett budget because it fails to fulfill our Constitutional obligation to the people of Pennsylvania. We could have put the priorities of real people ahead of political ideology and corporate pandering without raising taxes, but the Corbett budget fails to do so.”
The plan reverses all of the cuts that Corbett proposed making to state-related universities, including the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania 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.
Every House Republican but one voted in favor of the budget Thursday. Eleven Democrats joined them.
Rep. Dom Costa, D-21st District, was one of three Democratic representatives from the North Hills to vote against the budget.
"At this risk of sounding like a broken record, we truly could have done better with this budget. This budget grossly underfunds early and basic education and threatens to undo years of improvement for basic education. We’ve put our children at a disadvantage again," he said in a statement posted on his web site.
"We have failed Pennsylvanians with more of the same harmful cuts, while leaving millions on the table by giving the natural gas industry a free pass and failing to close the Delaware loophole," Costa said.
As the Senate watches the hours tick away until the June 30 deadline to adopt the budget, state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, has his views on the subject.
“I don’t have a problem making tough choices and voting for a tough budget that reflects a difficult economy," Solobay said. "But this budget simply dodges tough choices and responsibility—sending it down the line to local government, school boards, hospitals, and local agencies struggling to provide care for those who cannot care for themselves.
"My problem isn’t that the budget is tough. My problem is who it’s tough on."
Solobay echoed Markosek's words that, combined with the administration’s unilateral changes in how the state provide services for seniors who are trying to stay in their homes, this budget is tough on the elderly, the sick and the poor.
"At the same time, this budget is good news for big corporations with slick accountants and a hundred mailboxes in Delaware," Solobay said.
He said across the state, there are workers making minimum wage or a little more, bathing and feeding mentally challenged adults in a group home. They get a budget cut.
"I’ve seen staff and volunteers at senior centers pinching pennies and stretching the little bit of help they get as far as it will go," Solobay said. "They are the target of ‘welfare reform.’
"I don’t have any problem taking steps to make Pennsylvania more business friendly and I fully support the Governor’s aggressive recruitment of Shell Oil and other job creators. We need encourage new jobs in a new economy, but those investments can be made without putting the cost on the people that created and supported our communities until they could no longer support themselves. When we recognized the need to eliminate fraud and waste in our welfare system, I don’t think we were talking about moving frail senior citizens out of their homes and into nursing homes so we can keep an eye on them."
Solobay commended Republicans who helped walk the governor back from his original proposal and said he acknowledged that they have made progress moving from budget rhetoric to budget reality.
"But I can’t go home and tell these senior citizens and social workers that they were ‘nice to haves,’ and not ‘need to haves.’”
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