It's crunch time for budget in Harrisburg

Gov. Corbett said: "This is not an easy issue, but it is one that we do not have the time to say, 'We can do that later.' "
Gov. Corbett said: "This is not an easy issue, but it is one that we do not have the time to say, 'We can do that later.' " (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press)
Posted: June 12, 2013

HARRISBURG - Bring on the posturing and political maneuvering.

It is June in Harrisburg, when the state budget takes center stage and legislators plot ways to squeeze in priorities - and stomp on others.

And on Monday, the House began debate on a $28.3 billion spending plan that found Republicans advocating for proposals that closely resemble what Gov. Corbett outlined in his budget address in February, and Democrats arguing for more money for public schools and the expansion of Medicaid in Pennsylvania.

The spending blueprint being considered by the House was crafted by Republicans who control the chamber, and would send $100 million more to public schools and restore funding for certain health-related items, such as diabetes and epilepsy support programs and poison-control centers.

But Democrats pressed to more than triple the increase for schools - for a total of $333 million over this year's funding - and do away with Corbett's proposed business tax cuts.

"This [budget] continues the misery for a lot of people in this commonwealth," said Rep. Joe Markosek of Allegheny County, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. "It's a budget of missed opportunities."

Countered Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny): "When we spend $28.3 billion, keep in mind we are getting those from the hard-earned money of the citizens of Pennsylvania. We are doing it without raising taxes and by living within our means. . . . This is a responsible budget. This is a compassionate budget."

The House could vote on final passage on the budget as early as Tuesday. It will then be sent to the Senate, where it will likely sit while legislative leaders huddle behind closed doors with Corbett between now and the end of the month to reach an agreement.

And that agreement won't be just about numbers. There are three big issues not directly related to passing a state budget that Corbett has said are priorities for his administration: privatizing the state-run wine and spirits stores, reining in the rising cost of public employee pensions, and finding ways to fix Pennsylvania's roads and bridges.

Of the three, liquor privatization and transportation funding have emerged as more likely to be resolved. But likely does not mean "easy" - the House and Senate still have major differences to work through on both issues.

Legislative leaders have strongly signaled they do not believe there is enough time to tackle the pension question between now and July 1, when the budget is due and the legislature typically breaks for the summer.


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

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