State House unveils budget plan
HARRISBURG – Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania House took the wraps off a state budget proposal on Wednesday that would spend about $100 million less than the governor has proposed but about $600 million more than what passed nearly a year ago.
The GOP leadership touted an increase in spending on K-12 education, funding to hire 300 more state troopers and greater support for certain health programs, county conservation districts and the state open records office.
The House is expected to take up amendments to the $28.3 billion bill during the second week in June, with the goal of enacting the spending plan before the state’s new fiscal year starts on July 1.
State lawmakers also are considering three major issues – changes to public sector pensions, liquor system privatization and a transportation package – that could require changes to the budget.
“By no means am I presenting this budget to you today as if this is a final budget,” said Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware. “Negotiations on many of these issues are ongoing.”
Jay Pagni, spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget office, called the proposal “a starting point,” noting it takes into account lagging tax collections since the administration laid out its own budget in February.
Where the Republican governor has sought pension changes that would free up some money in next year’s budget, the House Republicans said lower-than-projected payments into the teachers’ pension fund had produced a savings of about $140 million instead.
House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said those savings “have a lot to do with 20,000 fewer jobs” in public education, positions cut in the past two years. He said the caucus was going through the GOP proposal before providing a full response.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said his caucus had questions about the House Republicans’ revenue projections, and his staff was still combing through the proposal’s details.
“We don’t think they go far enough on education, of course – we think there’s more that can be done there,” Costa said.
Both Corbett and the House Republicans produced budgets that assume the state will not expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, although the governor has said that decision could change.
Revenues from liquor system privatization, if it passes, will not come in for at least a year, said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, so it would not affect the 2013-14 state budget.
Corbett has named as one of his accomplishments in office that the state budget passed by midnight on June 30 during his first and second years in office, a departure from the years under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, when budget passage was days, weeks and even months overdue. House Republican leaders said Wednesday they intended to make it three in a row.
“By June 30 we will have a budget done that the governor will sign,” Turzai said.