Pa. House approves budget plan and sends it to the Senate

"When that budget comes back from the Senate, it will have a Marcellus Shale tax in it," said one representative. Above, drillers in Bradford County.
"When that budget comes back from the Senate, it will have a Marcellus Shale tax in it," said one representative. Above, drillers in Bradford County. (Bloomberg)
Posted: June 27, 2014

HARRISBURG - The state House on Wednesday approved a $29.1 billion spending plan for 2014-15 that will serve as the framework for final budget negotiations ahead of the Monday deadline.

The GOP-crafted budget, which passed on a near-party-line vote of 110-93, calls for increasing spending on education and human services.

But as the bill heads to the Senate, the lingering question was how to pay for it and close an estimated $1.5 billion deficit.

The Senate could approve the bill as early as Friday and send it to the governor's desk. But legislative leaders say negotiations will likely continue through the weekend.

Rep. Bill Adolph (R., Delaware), the appropriations chairman, said the plan "reflects Republican priorities," including what he called "record spending" for basic education.

With no new taxes included, the funding plan relies on $380 million from the sale of the state liquor stores, legislation widely understood to be dead.

Democrats accused the Republicans of offering a "phony budget" and suggested the liquor store sales were only a placeholder for a natural gas extraction tax to be added by the Senate.

"When that budget comes back from the Senate it will have a Marcellus Shale tax in it. Don't kid yourself," Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D., Allegheny) said during the two-hour debate.

Senate GOP leaders, while acknowledging a shale tax was under consideration, would confirm no revenue sources.

"The ongoing budget discussions include talks about the overall spending level, individual line items, and potential revenues needed to support whatever final spending plan is agreed to," said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware). "At this point, no final decisions have been reached."

Democrats have pushed for a 5 percent shale tax that would generate an additional $700 million in revenue.

Changes likely

Republican lawmakers praised the bill for not raising taxes, but even Adolph acknowledged the likelihood of significant changes in the final product.

Democrats and at least one Republican said the GOP plan included inadequate education funding and relied on "gimmicks" to close the deficit.

"This may be least responsive budget we've ever had," said Rep. Mark Cohen (D., Phila.), adding that his wife, a special-education teacher at a cash-strapped Philadelphia school, has had to serve as vice principal and school psychologist because of cutbacks. "This budget is inadequate on public education."

Rep. Joe Markosek (D., Allegheny), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, described the budget as "held together with tape and rubber bands."

"It's another symbol of Gov. Corbett's failed leadership . . . and unfair choices with sad ramifications for the people of Pennsylvania," Markosek said. "It is full of insanity."

Adolph called the proposal a responsible plan at a time when tax revenue is still lagging.

"You may not have everything you want, but considering revenue collections, considering the national economy, I think this $29.1 billion is a good plan," Adolph said. "It's balanced, and it's good for Pennsylvania."

Education

The budget calls for an additional $70 million, a 1.3 percent increase, for basic education across the state.

But Democrats said the state's education funding plan does not make up for past cuts, forcing school districts to fire teachers and raise taxes.

Adolph said that including special education funding, block grants, and other line items, Philadelphia schools would receive $1.3 billion, an increase of $39 million, or 2.9 percent, over last year.

A spokesman for the Philadelphia School District said the proposal was part and parcel of budget negotiations.

"This is what we expect at this point, the back and forth between members of the Legislature," Fernando Gallard said. "We hope that in the end we will have a budget that will support high-quality public education in Philadelphia and the commonwealth. We are continuing to advocate in Harrisburg."


aworden@phillynews.com

717-783-2584 @inkyamy

www.inquirer.com/phillydawg

www.inquirer.com/commonwealthconfidential.

Inquirer staff writer Kristen A. Graham contributed to this article.

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