Plan passes on partisan lines. GOP hails it as responsible; Dems say it falls short.

Last updated: June 13. 2013 12:16AM - 925 Views

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HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives approved a $28.3 billion state budget plan shaped by the Republican majority and sent to the Senate on Wednesday.


The 108-92 party-line vote capped nearly five hours of sharply partisan debate.


Republican lawmakers portrayed the bill, modeled largely on what GOP Gov. Tom Corbett proposed in February, as a responsible blueprint that would increase spending by more than $500 million without increasing taxes.


“There is no more money to spend in this budget,” insisted Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks.


The Democratic minority contrasted the GOP’s proposed $300 million-plus business tax break with a $100 million boost in public school funding that critics say is not close to what many school districts need to overcome serious financial problems.


Rep. Joseph Markosek, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said the bill falls “woefully short” of restoring nearly $1 billion in school spending cuts Corbett approved two years ago. House Democrats have proposed back-to-back $333 million increases over three years.


William Adolph, the Appropriations chairman, scolded the Democrats’ “sky-is-falling rhetoric.” He said the bill includes modest increases for numerous programs and that overall spending for education constitutes 41 percent of the budget.


Democrats also blamed Republicans for Pennsylvania’s failure to accept a federally funded Medicaid expansion that proponents say would provide health care to a half-million uninsured residents while also creating jobs and saving the state money.


Corbett has not ruled out the Medicaid expansion and his administration is continuing to negotiate details with federal officials. Although the expansion takes effect in 2014, state officials have said the needed preparations would likely delay any Pennsylvania expansion until 2015.


The Senate, where Republicans hold a narrower margin of control, is expected to take up the bill during the week of June 24, said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware. The 2013-14 fiscal year begins July 1.


At a news conference before the House debate, superintendents of five urban school districts — Harrisburg, Reading, Scranton, York and Southeast Delco — added their voices to the calls for increased state funding for schools.


The superintendents said their per-student cuts are deeper than county averages because they depend more on state money to compensate for limited tax bases and help fulfill the broader academic needs of children who are poor or not fluent in English.


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