State budget details emerge
HARRISBURG — The state Senate was poised to advance a spending plan of nearly $28.4 billion today, the last day of the fiscal year, with more than $700 million in new spending largely going toward health care for the poor, prisons, social services, public employee pensions and public schools.
The details emerged Saturday night as lawmakers held unusual weekend voting sessions to try to complete an on-time budget before leaving Harrisburg for the summer. The just-unveiled budget bill passed the Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote and was expected to come up for a full Senate and House vote today, the last day of the fiscal year.
The plan would increase core state spending by $719 million, or 2.6 percent, over the current fiscal year’s approved budget. The proposed changes to tax laws that were supposed to accompany the budget bill were not completed Saturday night, but the Legislature’s Republican majority leaders had promised no increases in either the two major taxes that pay for the budget, personal income and sales.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman characterized the spending plan as a final agreement. It is $65 million less than what Gov. Tom Corbett proposed in February, but it also projects substantially lower employee Social Security and pension costs than his plan due in large part to shrinking school payrolls.
The question of whether a $360 million business tax cut would be part of the final agreement among Republican lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett, also a Republican, was still up in the air.
Pension costs for school employees will rise $160 million, while the Department of Public Welfare’s wide-ranging budget for social services and health care for the poor will increase $333 million. Prison costs will rise $75 million while an extra $122 million will go toward public schools.
Philadelphia, which had been seeking an extra $120 million from the state, would get $14 million more, according to Senate GOP documents that accompanied the budget bill. That’s almost $2 million less than had been set aside in an earlier budget plan that passed the House on June 12. A group of Philadelphia parents and school employees have been engaging in a hunger strike in an effort to press for additional money.
Democrats sought to pump about $500 million more into the budget by putting off the business tax cut and counting benefits they said would accrue by accepting a federally funded expansion of Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Pennsylvania adults. Republicans rejected that amendment.