HARRISBURG -- House Republicans kicked off the annual June budget scramble Wednesday with a plan that boosts spending from the current year, though by less than the governor proposed in February, and does not assume that pension overhaul or other major policy initiatives become law.
The budget legislation announced by House Speaker Sam Smith, Majority Leader Mike Turzai, and Appropriations chairman Bill Adolph would spend $28.3 billion, an increase of $578 million, or 2.1 percent, from the current fiscal year. The plan would spend about $110 million less than Gov. Tom Corbett called for in February, Mr. Adolph, R-Delaware County, said, before new projections of lower revenue collections through the next fiscal year.
The Capitol heads into June with several major policy issues in play. Legislators are considering proposals to allow the private sales of wine and liquor, establish new funding for transportation infrastructure and rework the retirement plans of public employees. The Corbett administration continues to examine the prospects for expanding Medicaid access through the federal health care law, an option the governor has declined to pursue so far.
House budget writers based their proposal on current law, the Republican leaders said, including neither the reductions in employer payments contained in the governor's pension proposal nor the Medicaid expansion sought by Democrats.
On pensions, Mr. Smith, R-Punxsutawney, said maintaining the current payment schedule does not mean House Republicans will decline to pass the governor's proposal, though he noted that changes to the retirement plans themselves would not affect the budget until later years.
"I'm not taking anything off the table," Mr. Smith said.
Where Mr. Corbett proposed an additional $90 million for K-12 education, the House Republicans would boost the increase to $100 million. In a memo to Democrats, Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville and the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, described the $10 million addition as a "meager amount of funding" that would not make up for the losses public schools experienced with the expiration of federal stimulus money. Democrats argue that the state should have compensated for the loss of federal money, while Mr. Corbett boasts that Pennsylvania is spending more state tax dollars on K-12 education than ever before.
Mr. Markosek wrote that Democrats are disappointed that the Republicans did not include Medicaid expansion in their budget, though he praised them for maintaining pension payments.
The House will take up the legislation during the week of June 10, Mr. Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said -- a solid month after the Senate passed a budget last year. House Republican leaders emphasized their commitment to delivering a budget on time, and said they were confident Mr. Corbett would sign it with or without his initiatives on pensions, transportation funding and liquor privatization.
"We have a constitutional obligation to have the budget done by June 30, and we're going to meet that constitutional obligation," Mr. Turzai said. "Anybody who has in front of them a budget that's passed by the Senate and the House, and is agreed upon and meets our constitutional obligations, we fully expect that bill to be signed."
In the Senate, Appropriations chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre, described the House plan as a starting point in the budget negotiations.
"There will be changes, there's no question about that," he said. " But I think philosophically the Senate wants to make sure that not only do we have a budget that balances this year but projects a balanced budget next year, with reasonable rates of growth in both revenues and expenditures."
Jay Pagni, a spokesman for the governor's budget office, called the House plan "a good first step." He noted that the plan includes priorities of the governor, such as an increase in funding to serve people with intellectual disabilities.electionspa - state
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