The Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds

Senate Budget Proposal Restores Key 93

Capitolwire: State Senate passes $27.65 billion state budget.
By Peter L. DeCoursey Bureau Chief Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (May 9) – The Pennsylvania Senate voted 39-8 to pass its $27.65 billion budget proposal today, with 27 Republicans voting unanimously for it and Democrats supporting it 12-8.

The Senate-approved budget, Senate Bill 1466, hikes state spending by 1.8 percent, and restores funding cuts proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

Those restorations include $245 million Corbett cut from 18 state-funded universities, $84 million from county welfare programs and $50 million from education block grants. It also provides $50 million for fiscally-distressed schools and restores some pre-K programs, while cutting funding for Child Care Services for poor families. While the Senate budget raises Corbett’s spending level by $500 million, a total of $650 million in the governor’s cuts from the current year budget were restored, staff said.

For a story about Gov. Tom Corbett’s staff saying it spent too much and giving more detail on its provisions, CLICK HERE. For a story about Corbett and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, saying the Senate proposed spending level is a “ceiling” and they would like reach a lower spending total and the Senate leader’s responses, CLICK HERE.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre, and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said if revenues run higher than expected, they might be open to a spending increase once those numbers become clearer next month.

Corman said: “We may be comfortable with going a little higher” if revenues out-pace the IFO projections, “but obviously we are only one-third of this operation.” Of the $27.65 billion “ceiling,” Corman said: “If that’s where they are and they stick to that, I’m sure we won’t go any higher.”

He also noted that top Corbett officials said the proposed Senate budget was “unsustainable” on Monday.

“We’ve gone pretty far from unsustainability to a ceiling now,” he said.

Turzai seemed more comfortable with the spending ceiling than had Corbett, who seemed to want to substantially lower it. Turzai said the Senate bill was “a good work product.” He then said that the House had to yet to fully discuss and finalize its own proposals.

The House could present its own budget in its Appropriations Committee as early as the week of May 22, or premiere it in June in committee or on the floor, Turzai said.

“We’re still discussing all the issues and listening to our caucus,” he said.

Pileggi defended the bill as fiscally responsible: “This is a responsible, sustainable state budget. Senate Bill 1466 proposes to spend $27.656 billion from the General Fund. That’s an increase of just 1.8 percent over the current fiscal year, and it’s a lower spending level than Fiscal Years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11.

“It also represents a 1.7 percent increase over General Fund spending five years ago, in Fiscal Year 2007-08. As a point of comparison, over that same time period, the cost-of-living has increased by 11.7 percent.”

In terms of programs, Pileggi said during the floor debate: “In this proposal, we restore important funding for higher education, for local schools, and for county social services. We restore the health research program, known as CURE, under the Tobacco Settlement Fund. We restore funding to the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, commonly known as Key 93.

“And there is no question that we accomplish all of this in a way that is sustainable in future years.”

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, and Senate Minority Appropriations Committee Chairman Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said the bill restored close to $650 million in programs cut by Corbett, and was “a good step forward.” They both voted for it.

Sens. Mike Stack and Anthony Williams, both D-Philadelphia, voted against it.

Stack said the budget did too little to meet the needs of the people of the state, and its cuts to education block grants, county welfare grants and other programs were unacceptable.

“They were trying to not have the spend number for this budget go above a 2-percent increase in compliance with the right-wing, TABOR agenda,” he said in an interview after the vote.

“This budget had clear losers and winners,” Williams said after the vote. “Higher Education won. Social Services lost. Public education lost.”

Williams said the budget fell far short of what Senate Democrats had been advocating for years.

Hughes responded: “This is a big step forward and we are not done. We have a lot of work left to do to meet the needs of Pennsylvania. But we were in the negotiations, we were in the room and you can see the progress we made on the restorations our caucus prioritized.”

House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton responded: “Hospitals and nursing facilities, public schools, food banks, domestic violence shelters and safe bridges are basic must-haves that have not been adequately funded since Tom Corbett took over.

“The Senate budget disregards hundreds of millions of dollars in existing revenue and potential revenue. House Democrats will keep fighting to provide better budget choices for Pennsylvania than the false choices offered by Republicans.”

Corman said getting the 18 universities that receive more than $500 million in state funding to agree to limit tuition hikes to the cost-of-living or below was a major achievement.

Turzai agreed, and said any restorations for universities would require such a guarantee.

May 11 2012 08:23 am | News

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