Area lawmakers weigh in on state budget
Area lawmakers say Gov. Tom Corbett's delay in signing a 2014-15 state budget won't affect their opinion of a $29.1 billion plan passed in both houses of the General Assembly.
Those opinions reflect a Democratic minority in both houses that opposed the budget and GOP majorities who could not deliver pension reform or liquor privatization to fellow Republican Corbett.
“The governor is going 0 for 2 on his legislative priorities,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, who noted the state House voted on Tuesday to send Corbett's pension plan back to committee.
“While I disagree with the governor on this, I respect his decision to take one more look at it before he signs it,” said Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township. “That is his prerogative. I am confident he will sign it as it is a great budget.”
“This is a poorly managed, gimmick-laden, rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul budget that is now on top of all that late,” said House Appropriations Minority Chairman Joseph Markosek, D-Monroeville.
Markosek's caucus on that committee released a chart comparing state funding for public school districts.
There was no change in basic subsidies from 2013-14. More money will come in a change from Accountability Block Grants to Ready to Learn Block Grants, both of which had conditions attached.
While the final budget has $91.9 million more going to public schools, it is $128.8 million less than what Corbett proposed in his February budget address.
Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, said the budget includes “gimmicks that will have an immediate impact on the commonwealth's bond rating and impose a structural deficit on future budgets.”
“It's a good budget,” said Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield Township. “That said, the citizens of our commonwealth are being well served by Gov. Corbett performing his due diligence.”
That “due diligence” can take 10 days, a spokesman for Corbett said. The governor's office said state agencies under Corbett's jurisdiction can continue to operate normally during that time, while state employees continue to be paid and necessary services still will be provided.
“The governor's delay in signing the bill does not change my sentiments,” said Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport. “The problem is that there was revenue available through a responsible shale tax and Medicaid expansion that could be used for investments in education and human services but the governor didn't want to go in that direction.”
Brewster said the commonwealth is “looking at a more than $2.5 billion structural deficit” in 2014-15.
“It limits the growth of government to less than the rate of inflation, it funds K-12 education at record levels, and, importantly, it contains no tax increases,” Saccone said. “This marks the fourth consecutive, on-time budget without tax hikes since Republicans took control of the House in 2011.”
Democrats hope to flip House control back their way in this fall's elections and believe the Senate can be flipped, a point stressed in a Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee conference call Tuesday targeting races in several states, including Pennsylvania.
“If we win three Senate seats we go to 26-24 in the majority,” said Senate Appropriations Minority Chairman Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia.
Hughes said a Tom Wolf win over Corbett in the fall election would make Wolf's running mate Sen. Mike Stack, D-Philadelphia, lieutenant governor and give him the tie-breaker vote if only two Senate seats go Democratic.
“The plan is misguided and inappropriate and policymakers need to quickly change course and go in a new direction,” Costa said.
The Senate Democratic leader said Pennsylvania school students, teachers and taxpayers are still reeling from $1 billion in education cuts that Corbett authored in previous budgets, following the end of 2009-11 federal stimulus funding.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.