HARRISBURG -- House Republicans on Wednesday sent a $28.3 billion state budget to the Senate, but action isn't likely until legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Corbett negotiate other initiatives the governor has asked to accompany the spending plan.
The budget, which would increase spending 2.1 percent from this year, cleared the House 108-92 on a party-line vote. Republicans praised the budget as a responsible plan that boosts education spending, while Democrats protested that it leaves schools with inadequate funding and misses out on federal money that would be available if Mr. Corbett agreed to expand Medicaid eligibility under the federal health care law.
State Rep. Joe Markosek of Monroeville, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, noted that Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, has often said the House bill is not the final budget. "My response to that is, 'Thank God,' " Mr. Markosek said.
Aides to the majority leaders in both chambers said they expect the Senate to address the budget by amending it with an agreement negotiated by the governor and Republican leaders. Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said he expects the Senate will take up the budget in the week leading up to the June 30 deadline.
After signing his first two budgets in the minutes before the new fiscal year, Mr. Corbett also has asked legislators this year to also send him bills disbanding the state system of liquor sales, enacting new funding for transportation infrastructure and reducing the cost of statewide public employee pension plans.
Asked Wednesday if he would use the budget deadline to propel action on the other fronts, the governor reiterated that the bills are connected and he would be willing to work into the new fiscal year to deliver them.
Heading into the final two weeks of the scheduled legislative session, the House has passed a liquor bill while the Senate has passed a transportation bill.
A House committee on Wednesday began hearings on the transportation proposal while a Senate panel has held its liquor hearings. Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, chairman of the Law & Justice Committee, has said he is crafting a proposal that would postpone any sale of the state's liquor wholesale operation. House and Senate Republican leaders met privately Wednesday to discuss privatization.
Mr. Corbett's own liquor proposal would create licenses for private wholesale dealers but stopped short of saying another approach would be unacceptable.
"I believe it's in the best interest of Pennsylvania to sell the wholesale," Mr. Corbett said. "I also believe it's very difficult to be able to deliver from the system that we have today at the levels we're going to need ... without allowing the private sector to take over the wholesale and delivery mechanisms of wine and spirits."
Observers have asked if he can deliver the liquor bill. "In Harrisburg, in June, that's a lifetime," he said.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 1-717-787-2141.