Penna. House sends budget to Senate

Posted: June 30, 2012

HARRISBURG - One legislative chamber down, one to go.

After nearly four hours of debate Thursday, the House of Representatives voted, 120-81, to approve a proposed $27.65 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins Sunday.

The measure now heads to the Senate, which could vote on it as early as Friday.

Republicans who control both chambers have hailed the budget deal with Republican Gov. Corbett as a sensible and responsible spending plan in tough economic times that controls spending and does not raise taxes.

"You are part of the new way of governing," House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) told his colleagues Thursday, urging them to vote for the budget. "You are part of the solution."

Democrats countered that the proposal reflects what they contend are the GOP's misplaced priorities: new and continuing tax breaks for the business sector, while slicing tens of millions of dollars in funding for the needy.

One by one, they rose Thursday on the floor of the House to rail against the budget's call for nearly $300 million in tax cuts for businesses.

They also took aim at Corbett's controversial proposal to provide a tax credit to lure Shell Chemical L.P. to build a huge petrochemical refinery in Western Pennsylvania. Corbett and GOP legislative leaders struck a final deal on that tax credit Thursday: It calls for providing a credit of a nickel per gallon of ethane used by a qualifying refinery owner. The credit would begin in 2017 and last 25 years.

Democrats sought Thursday to juxtapose those tax incentives for businesses with the budget's roughly $84 million in cuts for an array of human-service programs for the mentally ill, the homeless, and people fighting alcohol and drug addictions.

The budget deal would also eliminate a cash assistance program that helps nearly 70,000 people, including the temporarily disabled, victims of domestic abuse, and recovering addicts.

"This is a big-business giveaway budget," said Rep. Joe Markosek (D., Allegheny), the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

"My advice to Pennsylvanians, if this budget passes, is: Don't get old. Don't get sick. Don't try to educate kids. Don't be unlucky enough to be disabled," he said.

Rep. Michelle Brownlee (D., Phila.) put it this way: "This budget fails every person I took office to represent."

In all, the negotiated budget agreement contains no new taxes - in keeping with Corbett's campaign pledge - and increases spending about 1.5 percent over this year's plan.

It reverses all of the cuts that Corbett proposed making to state-related universities, including Temple and Pennsylvania State University, as well as to the 14 schools in the State System of Higher Education. It also puts back all of the $100 million that Corbett sought to cut in grants that school districts use to finance kindergarten and other early-childhood-education programs.

For public school classroom operations, the budget deal would increase funding slightly overall, although most of the extra money would be destined for financially struggling districts.

Every House Republican but one voted in favor of the budget Thursday. Eleven Democrats joined them.

Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.

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