Whether Corbett signs off on the spending uptick remains a big question mark. Over the last few weeks, he has repeatedly voiced concern with the budget’s bottom line, and has called the legislature’s desire for the additional $500 million "a ceiling."
An administration spokesman could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But Corbett met behind closed doors at the governor’s residence with top Republican legislators Tuesday evening.
Legislative leaders emerging from the meeting called it productive. Said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson): "I don’t think anyone is walking out ripping up paper."
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) had originally said he hoped legislators could give Corbett a budget by next Wednesday but Tuesday night called that "a very optimistic goal at this point."
"We still have a lot of work to do," said Pileggi, adding that he still hoped to get a budget before the July 1 deadline.
In introducing his budget this year, Corbett stuck to his campaign pledge not to raise any taxes, and said his plan reflected the realities of a sluggish economy and the rising costs of pensions and health care for the poor. Aside from the early childhood education cuts, Corbett would slice funding by 20 percent for the state-supported universities, as well as an additional 20 percent for aid for county-run social services.
The plan GOP leaders offered Tuesday would restore most of the higher-education funding, as well as a portion of that for social services.
It would not restore a $150 million program that provides temporary cash aid to 70,000 disabled Pennsylvanians. Michael Froehlich, staff attorney for Community Legal Services, a nonprofit that advocates for the poor, said, "There’s nowhere else these folks are going to go if their doctors have determined they are unable to work."
Complicating budget talks this year could be several items Corbett wants from the legislature that aren’t directly related to spending — including his controversial plan to give tax breaks to Shell Chemical L.P. and other users of Pennsylvania ethane, a Marcellus Shale drilling-zone product the governor says could spur a new plastics industry.
He has also pushed recently for a prisons overhaul projected to save more than $263 million over five years.
Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk. Inquirer staff writer Amy Worden contributed to this article.