HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett unveiled a $63.6 billion operating budget for fiscal 2012 on Tuesday, with deep spending cuts that would return the state to spending levels of fiscal 2009.
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The general fund budget would shrink by 31.7 percent, dropping by $866 million to $27.3 billion. Spending for education would slide 10.3 percent to $5.2 billion from $5.8 billion, returning it to the pre-federal stimulus level.
"This budget sorts the must-haves from the nice-to-haves," Corbett told the legislature. "We have to spend less because we have less to spend....We must tax no more because the people have no more to give."
Corbett's proposals include requiring voter approval for any increases in school budgets that exceed the inflation rate and a one-year salary freeze for all school district personnel, which he said would save school districts an estimated $400 million.
Corbett, a Republican who took office in January, must get his first budget plan approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature. About one-third of Corbett's budget plan is devoted to education and about one-quarter would be spent on medical assistance and long-term care.
A new class of Republican governors elected last November has made a splash in states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida by calling for major cuts in government spending and tax breaks.
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In addressing state worker pay and benefits, Corbett took a less aggressive stance than other governors, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has moved to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
But Corbett said he would seek salary rollbacks and increased worker contributions to health care.
"In Pennsylvania, we cannot keep asking taxpayers to cover increased salaries and healthcare benefits for public sector employees when those taxpayers are losing the same," he said.
When Corbett, a former attorney general, came into office, he faced an estimated fiscal 2012 budget shortfall of roughly $4 billion. During his election campaign, he had pledged to avoid raising taxes to fill the gap.
In addition to paring government spending, Corbett said he would push to remove obstacles to private sector job creation.
Corbett, who had pledged just after his election in November to support the state's booming natural-gas industry, said Pennsylvania, should not "scare away" industry with new taxes.
"Just as oil companies decided to headquarter in one of a dozen states with oil, let's make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom," Corbett said. (Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Leslie Adler)