Pa. House recesses without starting budget debate
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HARRISBURG -- The House of Representatives recessed Wednesday night without beginning debate on a $27.66 billion state budget, leaving three days in the fiscal year to move the bill and accompanying legislation through both chambers to the governor.
After a late meeting with Republican legislative leaders, Gov. Tom Corbett pointed to the tight timeline but said he believed lawmakers were making progress.
"I'm certainly hoping we're going to have an on-time budget, but I look at it this way," he told reporters. "They've got a lot of work to get done in the next two-and-a-half days, three days."
The House had been expected to commence debate in advance of a vote as early as this morning. Earlier in the day, the Republican-crafted spending plan passed a House panel on a party line vote with Democrats opposed. The budget would spend $370 million more than this fiscal year and $500 million more than the plan Mr. Corbett proposed in February, before several months of higher-than-anticipated revenue collections.
It restores millions of dollars for public schools and state-supported universities that would have been cut under Mr. Corbett's plan, and it adds nearly $18 million to ease a waiting list for mental retardation services. The plan also appropriates $50 million for schools in fiscal distress.
According to information distributed by House Democrats Wednesday night, supplements for distressed districts would go to the Steel Valley, Sto-Rox and Jeannette City schools. The Duquesne City School District is expecting assistance through another spending bill.
Still, county human services funding would drop 10 percent, and Democrats argued the cut would result in a "caregiver tax" on families who lose assistance. They argued the state should not enact that cut while extending tax credits to Shell Oil Co. and other companies that use ethane produced in Pennsylvania.
"Comparing [the spending plan] favorably to the current budget is a little like saying that a 4-12 Steelers season is better than a 1-15 Steelers season," said Rep. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon. "It's still better, but it's woefully inadequate."
But Republicans said the plan spends as much as the state can expect to collect next year, and several pointed to looming costs for transportation and public pensions as reasons to leave a cushion for future years.
"I don't agree with every line, every dime, every dollar that's being spent," said Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware and chairman of the Appropriation Committee. "But we compromised. The governor compromised. And we got a responsible budget that spends no more than we have to take in."
The Senate can take up the spending bill as soon as it clears the House. But to enact the budget, the chambers also must approve accompanying legislation on topics including revenues and education. One of those measures will include a provision requiring non-profit organizations that deliver welfare services to report their administrative costs, including executive pay, to the General Assembly, Mr. Adolph said.
With the budget proposing more than $10 billion for welfare programs, Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks, said the requirement is needed to show legislators how service-providers spend public money.
"We know that the recipients are not receiving everything they need. We know that there's a waiting list. And we know the employees that perform these services aren't extremely well paid," he said. "So where's the disconnect?"
In the afternoon, the House moved two education proposals that had been a subject of budget negotiations. One measure would revamp teacher evaluations to include assessments of student performance as well as classroom observation. Mr. Corbett has pushed for changes in how teachers are assessed, and on Wednesday night he praised the vote.
"I think it's very good to get teacher evaluations," he said. "It's a step in the right direction with education reform. We've got other bills out there that we're working on."
The House also moved a proposal to create a commission to examine special education funding, while discussions continued on proposals to change the rules for charter school authorization.
First Published June 28, 2012 12:00 am