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Budget solution offered by state Dems

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Friday, April 15, 2011

HARRISBURG -- Senate Democrats announced their budget priorities on Thursday, from taxing Marcellus shale gas extraction to restoring the adultBasic state-subsidized health insurance program for the working poor.

At a Philadelphia news conference, Democrats said proposed budget savings and the natural gas tax would enable restoration of cuts in higher education and basic education laid out by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett last month.

"As we move forward in budget discussions, Senate Democrats are serious about finding solutions to bridge our budget shortfalls without cutting critical programs or risking the gains we have made in education," said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

The Democrats' plan has almost no chance of being enacted in the Republican-controlled Senate. But historically, minority parties have been able, through budget negotiations, to get portions of their plans included. Many Republicans want to reduce the 50 percent cuts for state-owned and state-related universities.

Corbett has repeatedly said he opposes a natural gas tax, though he will consider a local impact fee to help municipalities recoup costs from damage caused by drilling operations.

Democrats say their plan offers $1.1 billion in "savings" that they would spend to fund priorities in a budget with a $4.2 billion deficit.

"When Governor Corbett announced his budget in March, I said we could do better," said Sen. Vincent Hughes, of Philadelphia, ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. "The Senate Democratic plan that we are unveiling today proves that we can do better and that we are not stuck with false choices."

Other targeted cuts Democrats say they would restore include the county Human Services Development Fund, the Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program and mortgage foreclosure assistance programs, while maintaining programs that create jobs and provide job training.

The adultBasic program ended when it ran out of money due to the budget crisis. Corbett negotiated an arrangement with insurers to accept people from the adultBasic program -- at a higher monthly cost than they've been paying -- even if they have pre-existing medical conditions.




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