Pa. House panel approves GOP $28.3B budget plan

Pa. House committee approves GOP's $28.3B state budget plan; Senate Dems advance alternative

Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- The House Appropriations Committee on Monday approved a $28.3 billion state budget blueprint that closely tracks what Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett proposed, while Senate Democrats unveiled their own a plan to compete against proposals backed by the Republican majority that controls both houses of the Legislature.

The dual actions provided a lively start to what is expected to be a long month of work in June. Lawmakers' labors will include finalizing a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year by the June 30 deadline and dealing with major issues being driven by Corbett, including additional funding for transportation systems, changes in the public pension systems and the privatization of wine and liquor sales before their summer vacation.

Monday was the first time the Legislature had convened since before the May 21 primary election.

Major points of disagreement over the budget will include the size of business tax cuts, the level of public school aid and whether to embrace a Medicaid expansion that would be financed almost entirely by federal dollars.

The 21-14 House Appropriations vote fell along party lines and followed a spirited discussion between Republicans and Democrats on the panel. House debate is expected to start next week.

Committee Chairman William Adolph said the GOP proposal would increase spending for public education, state police and certain other programs while avoiding any tax increase, thanks largely to better-than-anticipated tax collections in May that prompted a recalculation of future collections.

Democrats complained that the increase in school subsidies falls far short of what is needed to make up for a nearly $1 billion spending cut two years ago. They also bemoaned the omission of the Medicaid expansion and the inclusion of $360 million in broad-based business tax cuts that Corbett supported in his February budget proposal.

"Why can't we hold off on business tax breaks and use the money to help our struggling school districts?" asked Rep. Joseph Markosek of Allegheny County, the committee's ranking Democrat.

Adolph, R- Delaware, said GOP leaders did not include the proposed Medicaid expansion in their proposal because Corbett had not made a decision and negotiations with federal officials were continuing. But he reiterated that he anticipates revisions.

"This by no means is the final proposal," he said.

The $28.5 billion Senate Democratic plan unveiled Monday would increase spending by about $730 million, or less than 3 percent above this year's approved level. The House GOP proposal calls for a 2.1 increase or $579 million.

The Democratic proposal would spend about $220 million more on public schools, or more than twice what Republicans are considering, while leaving more money in reserve.

However, the plan hinges on the expansion of Medicaid that Democrats say will save the state money and enhancements to increase sales in the state-controlled wine and liquor stores. It also would eliminate the $360 million in business tax cuts that Republicans favor.

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