Pa. Lawmakers Vote Last Of State Budget Bills
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A five-hour flurry of votes by Pennsylvania lawmakers on Saturday passed the remaining bills needed to make up a new $28 billion state government budget, three days into the new fiscal year.
The budget includes $250 million more for basic aid to public schools and authorization to borrow $600 million for capital projects, no new taxes and widely scattered cuts that are expected to result in hundreds – at least – of state employee layoffs.
The budget draws heavily from federal stimulus money, but does not specify which programs will be cut if the state does not get $850 million that has been stalled in Congress. It includes a written commitment by House Democrats and Senate Republicans to work this fall on enacting a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction and on a new nonpartisan legislative fiscal office.
Thanks largely to the federal stimulus, spending rose slightly, less than 1 percent, from 2009-10.
Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell plans to sign the budget bills on Tuesday and Wednesday in Harrisburg and other locations across the state. It is the final budget of his eight years in office, and like the others, it will be enacted after the June 30 deadline.
“It was an agreement on how to allocate scarce resources among almost unlimited needs in the commonwealth,’’ said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, shortly after both chambers adjourned until September. “That’s a difficult process, but we managed to reach agreement.’’
House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne, called it a sound, conservative approach that prevents shifting costs to school property taxpayers while creating jobs.
“I think the taxpayers can look at this budget and say, you know, heading into next year, which will be difficult times, we created a sound mechanism to guarantee that we’re ready to focus on the key issues,’’ Eachus said.
Both chambers passed the main budget bill, the appropriations bill, on Wednesday, but late Thursday the budget deal appeared to be unraveling over the creation of the fiscal oversight office championed by Senate Republicans.
The deal got back on track Friday, with lawmakers eager to wrap up voting in time to return their districts for the Independence Day holiday.
“It’s not an easy time to lead,’’ said Steve Crawford, Rendell’s chief of staff. “The governor’s gratified, I’m gratified, that these guys were able to work it out in the last 48 hours. We helped where we could with a little prodding, pushing, poking.’’
The final product did not include taxes that had been proposed on cigarettes and tobacco products. It did not roll back the vendor discount for sales taxes. And a lastminute proposal to spell out which programs will be cut if the $850 million is not forthcoming did not attract enough support in the House for a floor vote.
Rep. Curt Schroder, RChester, said the cuts should first come to what he described as $100 million in legislatively controlled spending often called “walkingaround money,’’ or WAMs.
“Before we cut education, before we cut vital services, let’s cut WAMs,’’ Schroder said.