Corbett signs $28.4B budget

| Sunday, June 30, 2013, 4:21 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett on Sunday signed a $28.4 billion state budget that raises spending 2.3 percent and calls for no tax increases.

Under the state constitution, Corbett, a Shaler Republican, had until midnight Sunday to sign the budget bill.

It passed 33-17 in the Senate earlier Sunday and by a 111-92 vote in the House hours later.

“This is a fiscally responsible budget that does not raise taxes on individuals and yet still provides for the priorities of this Commonwealth,” said House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County.

Legislators sidelined Corbett-backed measures that sought to privatize the state's liquor store system and set transportation funding.

“How could I be disappointed with the work the men and women behind me did?” Corbett said referring to more than two dozen lawmakers, leaders and officials standing behind him at a news conference. “The House got a (liquor) bill to the Senate. That's never happened in this state. The Senate got a transportation bill to the House.”

Looking toward the legislature returning to session in September, Corbett said, “Let's get it done.” He compared the situation now to being at the “end of the first quarter. We have three more quarters to go.”

Rep. Joe Markosek, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said “technically” it is a late budget with numerous budget-related bills still not enacted. With Republicans controlling both chambers of the General Assembly, “there's no excuse to be late,” Markosek said.

Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Republican leaders, dismissed that claim. “The General Appropriations bill (approved Sunday) is, in fact, the state budget,” Miskin said.

An increase of $122.5 million for basic education is one of the budget's key features.

Democrats say it does not begin to make up cuts from 2011. The state faced a $4.1 billion deficit that year based in part on federal stimulus money that was discontinued.

Calling the overall budget a “failure,” Markosek said the legislature has done “very, very little to restore basic education.” That's after the majority party “slashed and burned” education funding two years ago, said Markosek of Monroeville.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said, “This year's budget reaffirms our commitment to fiscal restraint and fiscal responsibility by investing in key areas such as education and public safety, while also keeping spending in line.”

Sen. Vincent Hughes, ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations committee from Philadelphia, said the budget is better than the one Corbett proposed in February, but it's not ideal.

“This budget falls short on education funding,” said Hughes. “Many of our school districts are feeling the crunch of economic pressure.”

The budget includes $22.5 million for distressed school districts, Adolph said.

Corman said budgets for the past few years still stem from the recession. Instead of the traditional approach of raising taxes, leaders decided to “do with less” until revenue streams fully rebound.

Raising taxes for revenue to bolster programs is not a solution that taxpayers would tolerate, Corman said.

The budget does not change funding for special education and state-owned universities. The same flat line essentially applies to state-related universities such as the University of Pittsburgh.

“This is the second year that we have been able to continue funding for the state-related universities at current levels and continue our commitment with those schools to keep tuition increases down,” said Corman.

Corman and Adolph touted a $9 million increase for Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office.

The budget includes more money for the child predator unit and a $2.5 million appropriation to pay for a mobile street crime unit, Corman said.

It provides an additional $14.7 million to hire state troopers. The money would be used for three new classes to train 290 troopers.

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