PA House Approves New State Budget

Republicans call spending plan responsible, Democrats decry social service cuts.

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. Governor 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.

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.

We want to know what you think of the new state budget? Tell us in the comments box below. 

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