Pa. Dems say they've found $1.1 billion in new taxes, spending efficiencies
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HARRISBURG -- Senate Democrats want more money for education, health care and social services, and now they have a plan to get it.
They have identified $1.1 billion in new taxes and government efficiencies that could allow funding to be restored to schools, colleges, adultBasic health insurance and a mortgage foreclosure assistance program slashed in Gov. Tom Corbett's $27.3 billion budget proposal.
Unveiled Thursday, the Democrats' plan includes dozens of initiatives, each aimed at freeing up a few million dollars to hundreds of millions.
With Republicans controlling the Senate, House and governor's office, it's unlikely their plan will gain traction. Still, Democrats want their voices heard.
"We need to push back against the governor's budget," said Sen. Vince Hughes of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. "He balanced the budget on the backs of working families and children."
Said Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills: "We hope our ideas will save taxpayers from having to bear some painful cuts."
The governor has promised to listen to alternatives as long as total spending doesn't exceed $27.3 billion and as long as proposals don't include new or increased taxes.
Senate Democrats have a problem on both counts. They want to spend as much as $27.45 billion, add taxes on natural gas drilling and online sales, and increase taxes on hospitals and nursing homes.
The increased tax on hospital would allow the state to draw down $160 million in federal funds that could be used to restore funding to burn units, trauma centers and other health programs cut in the Corbett budget.
A similar tax increase for nursing homes would leverage other federal dollars.
Meanwhile, Democrats believe they can find $60 million by rooting out welfare fraud and $25 million by consolidating pharmaceutical purchases made through 17 different programs, including the Employee Benefit Trust Fund and the Department of Corrections.
They want to tame corrections spending by ensuring parole hearings are held as soon as inmates are eligible and by increasing the use of halfway houses as an alternative to prison for nonviolent offenders.
The Democrats' proposal also includes more stringent requirements for competitive bidding on state contracts, an audit to ensure only eligible family members are covered under state employees' health insurance plans, increased collections of court fines and a 10 percent reduction in overtime for state workers.
"It is important for Senate Democrats to get these ideas out there and make sure our priorities -- and those of working families -- are part of the discussion," caucus spokeswoman Lisa Scullin said.
"We would hope Republicans would be open to our ideas. It's not about party affiliation but economic progress."
First Published April 15, 2011 12:00 am