Dueling Budget Bills Now Moving Through the General Assembly

Adding fresh fuel to Pennsylvania’s 160-day budget impasse, the Senate Monday sent the House a $30.8 billion budget that reflects the budget framework agreement all sides seemed to be moving to just a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee moved along a $30.2 billion spending plan that was said to reflect “the art of the possible” in that chamber.

Starting in the Senate, Senate Bill 1073 passed with relatively little debate by a 43-7 vote.

The bill was acknowledged on both sides as being an imperfect compromise.

“I think this budget does the best we can under the circumstances to have reasonable growth in our spending, but at the same time we still have challenges,” said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) on the Senate floor Monday afternoon.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) added voting for the consensus proposal is the best way to ensure money starts flowing to provide for addition investments in public education and address issues with social services funding.

“We can make a choice, and that choice is to make investment,” he said.

Most importantly, Sen. Corman said to members of the House, the bill moving through the Senate is the one that can get the votes in the Senate and the governor’s signature.

“If our friends in the other chamber have a budget that can pass the House, pass the Senate, that the governor will sign, I’m certainly open to hear that,” he said. “What they’ve offered so far has not been able to achieve those goals.”

In the House, Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) told reporters that while his caucus “is all for the framework,” the details of that agreement have not been received or agreed to.

“We are listening to our neighbors, our local businesses,” he said in terms of them not wanting to be taxed. “These are real jobs. This is a balanced budget.”

He said there remain “huge questions” about whether or not either chamber can put up the votes to raise the revenue that the $30.8 billion budget is going to take.

“We are facing reality, this is a reality check, we can pass this budget on this type of revenue,” he stated. “Let’s pass a budget we know we have the votes for now.”

Committee Minority Chairman Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) said the House Republicans are the only missing part of the budget framework agreement.

“We know we don’t have all the answers, they don’t have all the answers, but we all need to get together,” he said. “I know there are certain strategies where people put in certain pieces of legislation to try to move their side of the equation along, but we are way beyond that now. That’s for May and June.”

As explained in committee, the $30.2 billion spend number encompassed in House Bill 1460 is supported by $309 million in new revenues to come from gaming expansion, a tax on e-cigarettes and self-rolled cigarettes, as well as an increase in the cigarette tax.

It was noted as being $82 million higher than the proposal in House Bill 1192 that the governor vetoed on June 30th, and $1 billion higher than FY 2014-2015’s budget.

As part of the bill that is moving through the House, there is an additional

$1 million for Child Advocacy Centers, a five percent increase for higher education (Lincoln University gets a seven percent increase), $50 million more for the Ready to Learn Block Grant Program, and $30 million for special education.

Chairman Adolph said all of those increase are on top of the $100 million increase in public education encompassed in House Bill 1192.

The proposal is expected to be voted on by the full House as soon as Tuesday.