HARRISBURG -- House Republicans shepherded their state budget proposal through committee Monday, while Democrats in the House -- and their colleagues in the Senate -- called for the state to spend more on education and expand Medicaid eligibility through the federal health care law.
The House GOP proposal that cleared the Appropriations Committee on a 21-14, party line vote would spend $578 million more than the current year's budget, an increase of 2.1 percent, and about $100 million less than the proposal Gov. Tom Corbett put forward in February. Committee Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, lauded the plan for spending $100 million more than this year on K-12 education, a boost of $10 million over Mr. Corbett's proposal, and listed additions to areas including the Office of Open Records and the auditor general's staff.
But Rep. Joseph Markosek of Monroeville, the ranking Democrat on the panel, said the plan comes up short, particularly in its allotment for public schools. He dismissed the supplement of $10 million over the governor's plan as "the meager amount of funding," "the paltry amount," "the too-little, too-late amount."
He argued, in a refrain consistent among Democrats, that the state cut education funding when the federal stimulus program expired by not making up the funds in full.
"Whether it's state money or federal money -- and I know we seem to like to quibble a lot about that -- it doesn't matter to the students," he said. "The fact is our public schools are in distress."
Republicans countered that the budget spends what is available. Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks, committee vice chairman, said budget writers could move money between items but the state's financial situation would not allow them to spend more overall.
"When the minority chairman says we have other choices, in this room today, we don't have any other options," Mr. Petri said. "They haven't been given to us."
Democrats argue that the state should increase its federal revenue by opting to expand Medicaid rolls through the federal health care law. In the Senate, members Monday presented a budget plan -- weighing in, like Mr. Corbett's, at $28.4 billion -- that would rely in part on Medicaid expansion to allow additional spending, including on education.
Mr. Corbett has declined so far to endorse Medicaid expansion, but his administration is in talks with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to seek flexibility in the program. The administration's top human services official, acting Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare Beverly Mackereth, has said a decision to expand Medicaid eligibility would likely take until January 2015 to implement.
House leaders plan to bring the budget bill to the floor for amendments Monday.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 1-717-787-2141.