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In last-minute frenzy, Pennsylvania's Governor Corbett claims legislation, budget victories

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By The Associated Press
Monday, July 2, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Despite Republican domination of the Capitol, the final hours before Gov. Tom Corbett signed his second budget Saturday night were chaotic, with late-night votes, 11th-hour negotiations to seal deals and a bill to allow red-light cameras in Pittsburgh.

Corbett signed the $27.7 billion, no-new-taxes general appropriations bill at 11:45 p.m. Saturday, the centerpiece of several long-term victories delivered by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The bill went to his desk Friday, but he waited for passage of companion pieces of legislation that were integral to the budget, crucial to his agenda or adorned with lawmakers' pet provisions.

With heavy support from Democrats, he won approval for two tax credits: one designed to entice a subsidiary of Netherlands-based oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC to build a petrochemical refinery in Beaver County and another designed to advance his agenda to open up taxpayer-financed alternatives to public schools.

He cemented an overhaul of how public school teachers' classroom performance will be evaluated, and he eased his former chief of staff and longtime friend, Bill Ward, into his dream job of being a judge on the Allegheny County bench.

But action on many items in the final 36 hours before Corbett signed the budget veered between hastily called committee meetings, last-minute amendments and last-ditch talks.

The governor had his defeats: Top Republicans blamed him for being unable to sway support for provisions to encourage more privately run, taxpayer-funded charter schools.

The budget plan for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which began Sunday, passed with just 14 Democratic votes. It authorizes a spending increase of about 1.5 percent, largely for debt, pensions and health care for the poor, as well as to help fill an approximately $160 million shortfall in the just-finished fiscal year.

Meanwhile, it is projected to deposit $350 million to $400 million into reserves, cut businesses' taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars and slash hundreds of millions of dollars from services for the poor, homeless, troubled and disabled.

Aid for public schools and universities will remain flat — a handful of public schools approaching financial collapse will get a little extra money — after absorbing more than $1 billion in cuts in the just-ended fiscal year. But more new education money, $75 million, went toward tax credits approved to reward businesses that contribute to scholarships for students who transfer to private schools or public schools outside their home districts.

After 1 a.m. yesterday, the chamber approved a bill to expand the use of red light cameras to catch traffic violators in Pennsylvania and sent it to Corbett's desk. In addition to extending use of the automated cameras in Philadelphia through 2017, it would allow the devices in Pittsburgh and suburban Philadelphia municipalities with at least 20,000 residents and accredited police departments.

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