A $27.15 billion state budget that cuts funding for higher education, K-12 schools and environmental and economic development programs passed the House Wednesday night and is on its way to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk.
Closing a $4.2 billion deficit was Corbett’s top priority upon taking office in January.
That deficit stemmed from the loss of federal stimulus money and what Corbett said was years of overspending.
The budget, approved 109-92, meets Corbett’s goals of erasing the deficit while not raising taxes and, according to Republican lawmakers, without spending more than Corbett’s cap of $27.3 billion. It cuts spending by $1.2 billion, or 4.2 percent, from last year.
“Today, we’re doing what some said couldn’t be done,” said Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland County.
“I’m ashamed of it all and it didn’t have to be this way,” said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, arguing against it.
Corbett, who negotiated the budget with Republican legislative leaders, is expected to sign it by Friday’s deadline, which is set in state law and implied in the state constitution. It would end an eight-year run of late budgets under former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.
“We are sending a signal to the business community and to taxpayers that years of overspending are being ended in this budget,” said Rep. Glen Grell, R-Cumberland County.
But Democrats attacked the budget as a document that passes on costs and higher taxes to local governments. Rep. Camille “Bud” George, D-Clearfield County, called it “a cynical document of despair.”
“This is a pass-the-buck budget,” said Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer County.
It will hurt the chronically ill, handicapped, elderly and children, said House Appropriations Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville. He decried “horrendous cuts to education.”
Democrats contended it will lead to higher school property taxes — and increased tuition for students. The State System of Higher Education, which oversees 14 state-owned universities, would see an 18 percent cut in state funding. The state-related universities — Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln — face 19 percent cuts.
House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County, made light of the Democrats’ arguments. “The sky is falling, the world is ending and yes, the world of uncontrollable spending is coming to an end,” Adolph said.
Separate legislation is pending to let voters decide whether to raise property taxes above inflation — with likely exceptions being for school special education and pension costs.
Later Wednesday night the House by a 99-98 margin approved an amendment from Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County, to tighten existing language in state law covering referenda. “It is designed to prevent property tax increases,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, told his colleagues a vote for this budget was “a vote to protect taxpayers.”
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