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June 27, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Budget Roundup: Corbett, GOP lawmakers say budget is still scheduled for on-time passage

Daily Budget Roundup – June 27, 2012

By PA Independent Staff

Corbett, GOP lawmakers say budget is still scheduled for on-time passage

HARRISBURG – Republican lawmakers leaving a late-evening negotiation session with Gov. Tom Corbett continued to put on a happy face about getting the state budget done by the June 30 deadline, which is now just three days away.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said floor debate on the budget will would commence as soon as lawmakers convene at 9:30 on Thursday morning.

“We’re getting right into the budget,” he said. “I feel very positive, I think its an outstanding budget.”

After the state House passes the budget, it needs a final stamp of approval from the state Senate before moving to Corbett’s desk.  A number of other technical bills also need to be passed.

Then there are the other bills floating along with the budget.

Education reform measures continued to be negotiated on Wednesday night, hours after the state House is set to pass legislation on Thursday that would revamp the state’s evaluation system for public school teachers.

Meanwhile, issues over the establishment of a second tax credit program to give school choice to poor students appear mostly resolved, but charter school accountability reforms continue to be discussed even as all sides said progress was being made towards a final deal that would allow the state budget and all its accompanying pieces to be signed, sealed and delivered by Saturday night.

“I don’t anticipate any need to come in beyond Saturday,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester.

Corbett said he was still hopeful the budget would be completed on time, something he repeatedly promised to deliver while campaigning for the office in 2010.

“”They’ve got a lot of work to get done in the next two-and-a-half, three days,” he said, referring to the legislature. “I think we’re getting there.”

This is an update from 9:25 p.m.

Education reform measures being vetted by legislature

HARRISBURG – Debate on the state budget bill is expected to begin in the state House this evening, but Republican lawmakers are spending the afternoon in closed-door meetings to vet a series of education reform plans being pushed by leaders and the Corbett Administration.

Chief among that groups of bills is a tax credit plan to help more middle and low-income students afford private, religious and non-public schools.

A preliminary agreement would have the existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit, or EITC, increased from $75 million to $100 million.  The program is funded with contributions from businesses, which receive a 75 percent tax credit in return for their donations.

The funds are used to pay for scholarships given to children from families making less than $72,000 per year.

Another aspect of the plan would see the creation of a secondary EITC program – capped at $50 million next year – aimed at poor students residing in the 15 percent of worst-performing school districts in the state.

State Rep. John Bear, R-Lancaster, said he was in favor of the measure.

“I think this is a good approach because it’s not taking any money out of the basic education line items,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “We need to start to rethink our business model on how we deliver goods and services.”

Teachers’ unions and some Democrats have come out in opposition to the plan, arguing that it drains resources from the budget that could otherwise be used to fund public education and that the income qualifications are too generous for a program that is supposed to benefit children from poor families that cannot afford private schools.

This is an update from 2:10 p.m.

Budget bill heading to House floor, everything else up in the air

HARRISBURG – Everything that has a deadline will be finished on time, promised state Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

That’s a little capitol double-speak for you.

The House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines on Wednesday morning to send the state budget bill to the House floor, where debate will commence later in the day with a final vote expected later this week.

That leaves plenty of time for the state Senate to concur with the changes made by the House and get the bill to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk before the June 30 deadline set in the state constitution.

However, the various and sundry legislation that accompanies the state budget is not subject to that same deadline, and it looks increasingly likely that the passage of those other bills will spill over into early July.

Lawmakers are still putting the final touches on a series of education reform measures as well, which may take until next week to complete.

The spending plan of $27.656 billion is at least on schedule, and Adolph praised the final figure as “a responsible budget that spends no more than we will take in.”

Democrats voted against the bill in committee on Tuesday after protesting proposed 10 percent cuts to human services programs at the county level and a less than adequate increase in education spending.

State Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny, the minority chairman of the committee, said his caucus was left out of budget discussions entirely and would not support a proposal they had not been allowed to negotiate.

Adolph shot back that Democrats could have had a seat at the table if they had crafted an alternative budget plan and offered a complete package, including how to pay for their more expensive proposals.

“It’s easy to criticize,” Adolph said. “You have to offer a budget, not just ideas.”

As he was leaving a Wednesday morning meeting with other Republican lawmakers, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, told reporters that everything would be completed by Saturday.

This is an update from 11:45 a.m.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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