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Pa. House OKs GOP's $27.7B budget proposal

| Thursday, June 28, 2012, 9:20 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's House of Representatives on Thursday approved a Republican-crafted spending plan, pushing it one step closer to enactment with the beginning of the state's new fiscal year closing in.

The 120-81 vote culminated more than three hours of debate over the $27.7 billion proposal for the 2012-13 fiscal year that starts on Sunday. It sets the stage for a final Senate vote as early as today.

The proposal was negotiated by GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, who originally advocated limiting spending to this year's $27.1 billion, and leaders of the Legislature's Republican majorities, who convinced Corbett that tax collections are healthy enough to sustain hundreds of millions more.

All but one Republican voted in favor it, while just 11 Democrats joined them.

The plan boosts spending by 1.5 percent, mostly to cover the rising cost of health care and public employee pensions, and provides new business tax cuts. It would hold public education spending level after this year's 10 percent reduction — financially ailing school districts would see a little more aid — while cutting funds for county-run social services and shutting down a Depression-era program that provides a $200-a-month cash benefit for disabled adults who are unable to work.

“This is a fiscally responsible, but caring, prioritized budget,” House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said in the final throes of the debate.

Democrats accused the Republicans of sitting on a surplus that could be tapped to blunt some of the social service cuts and charging that the “no-tax” budgets would force increases in local property taxes necessary to run the public schools while locking in this year's subsidy reduction.

“My advice to Pennsylvanians ... is don't get old, don't get sick, don't try to educate kids, don't be unlucky enough to be disabled, don't try to find a job, don't try to catch a bus and don't try to find a non-deficient bridge,” said Rep. Joe Markosek of Allegheny County, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, criticized ongoing personnel reductions at the Department of Environmental Protection, citing estimates that 60,000 natural gas wells will be drilled in the state over 20 years.

“The environmental stresses are increasing and the resources we are giving the agency to enforce environmental laws are decreasing,” he said.

Rep. Michelle F. Brownlee, D-Philadelphia, said the proposal is “sinking every lifeboat that the truly needy people in this commonwealth need to keep afloat.”

Republicans cited the critics' broad-ranging complaints as evidence that the plan is a genuine compromise that balances Pennsylvanian's needs with fiscal responsibility.

“You are the fiscal stewards of the taxpayers' hard-earned dollar,” Turzai said. “They are taking money from their pocket and giving it to this Legislature to spend in an appropriate and responsible manner.”

“Pennsylvania faces the same challenge that every state in America faces ... how to make do with less,” said Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery. “Pennsylvania is a balanced-budget state. We don't print money and we don't deficit-spend.”

“None of us ever gets everything we want,” said Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks.

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