House Republicans stake out Pa. budget position

Even though the state has trimmed spending, there could be a revenue shortfall making things tough in Harrisburg. PAUL VATHIS / Associated Press
Even though the state has trimmed spending, there could be a revenue shortfall making things tough in Harrisburg. PAUL VATHIS / Associated Press
Posted: May 31, 2013

HARRISBURG - Consider it the unofficial start of what could shape up to be a frantic season of budget wrangling.

Republicans who control the House on Wednesday outlined their vision of what a state budget should look like, and it boiled down to this: $28.3 billion in spending, including some extra money thrown in for public schools.

At a news conference in the Capitol, the House GOP's leadership said its proposal includes an additional $10 million in funding for K-12 education over what Gov. Corbett, also a Republican, proposed in February as part of his $28.4 billion spending plan.

Corbett included an extra $90 million for schools; House GOP leaders would boost that to $100 million.

Their proposal also restores about $7 million for health-related items such as diabetes and epilepsy support programs and poison-control centers.

It includes money for 300 new state troopers, as does Corbett's plan, and would increase funding for the Office of Open Records, the Ethics Commission, and the Auditor General's Office.

Overall, the House blueprint is about $100 million less than what the governor proposed, and about $600 million more than the current budget.

Yet the proposal is as noteworthy for what it doesn't mention - namely, any insistence that a budget deal include a final agreement on Corbett initiatives that have come to be known as the "Big Three": pension reform, transportation funding, and liquor privatization.

The House Republicans - Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson), Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), and Bill Adolph (R., Delaware), who chairs the Appropriations Committee - said Wednesday that discussions on those issues are continuing. but they did not sound optimistic about getting them resolved by the budget's July 1 deadline, after which the legislature breaks for the summer.

How that will play with Corbett, who has spent the last few months crisscrossing the state pushing for liquor privatization and pension changes, remains a big question mark.

With the governor facing reelection next year, his administration has made no secret that it needs some big budget-season wins to bolster his image with voters and buoy his poll numbers.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said the House GOP version "largely reflects what the governor introduced in February," and said the administration believes it will accomplish its third straight on-time budget.

"This begins the negotiation process," Harley said.

Political reality, however, may tell a different story. House GOP leaders have been unenthusiastic about tackling transportation funding, while their Senate counterparts are wary of liquor privatization - which both Corbett and House Republicans support.

The pension issue has been thorny as well.

Hoping to rein in the escalating cost of public employee pensions, Corbett has proposed putting all new state workers in 401(k)-style retirement plans and changing the way future benefits are calculated for current employees, for a savings of $175 million in the next fiscal year alone.

But the House GOP plan does not include those proposed pension changes. Its authors said they can make up for the $175 million in part through lower-than-projected payments the state needs to make to the public-school teachers' pension fund.

Meanwhile, Democrats pounced on the fact that the House GOP proposal includes no expansion of Medicaid eligibility for low-income Pennsylvanians under the federal Affordable Care Act. Under the so-called Obamacare law, the federal government would pick up nearly all the initial cost of health insurance for hundreds of thousands of additional Pennsylvanians by widening Medicaid's income eligibility guidelines - that is, if the state opts in.

Corbett has declined to do so, pointing out that over time, the state would have to pick up more of the tab. He has left the door open to reconsidering.


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

|
|
|
|
|