By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Next year’s state budget is one step closer to completion.
The House of Representatives Wednesday passed a $28.3 billion spending plan for next year with a 108-92 party line vote. But the proposal is far from a done deal, as negotiations will continue with the state Senate and administration before final passage.
Debate on the bill started at 11:30 a.m. Dozens of speakers from both sides of the aisle gave floor speeches, held to under five minutes apiece.
Nearly five hours debate touched on all aspects of state spending – from public health, to education and job creation. But there was no hashing of details, compromises or changes of heart, only acclaim and admonishment divided across party lines.
Republicans heralded the fact that their budget includes no new taxes, and is held under the rate of inflation. They also noted how the plan increases spending by $600 million more than the current year.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, called the House budget responsible and prioritized.
“We are doing it in a manner that lives within our means, just like families and businesses across the state of Pennsylvania,” Turzai said.
The budget lowered Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal by about $100 million, but increased funding for county conservation districts, Department of Health support programs, the Office of Open Records and the State Ethics Commission. It also allows for 300 new officers in the Pennsylvania State Police.
Democrats talked about how the budget fails to adequately fund education and penalizes the working class in favor of corporations. House Democrat proposals include freezing the phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax and expanding Medicaid, along with a three-year plan to boost education funding.
While the minority party saw its amendments get shot down earlier this week, House Appropriations Minority Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, said Democrats are hopeful they may be more involved in negotiations than in Corbett’s last two budgets.
Negotiations will continue over the next 17 days, up until the June 30 constitutional deadline for the General Assembly to pass the budget. And with Corbett’s legislative initiatives – transportation funding, liquor privatization and pension reform – still in limbo, the party may have a chance to weigh in.
Markosek said he thought the majority party saw they were mistaken to block out the caucus in past years.
“We have not been involved in any kind of serious negotiations with the other caucuses, which is just wrong, because we represent almost half the people of the commonwealth,” Markosek said, “and they didn’t have a place at the table until now.”
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