GOP budget bill facing Wolf's veto heads to Pennsylvania Senate as deadline looms

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved an approximately $30 billion Republican-crafted budget bill on Saturday as the Wolf administration and top GOP lawmakers positioned themselves for a government shutdown and the first veto of an entire budget in at least four decades.

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The bill passed 112-77 after two hours of debate during an unusual weekend session with just four days left in the state's fiscal year.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber as early as Monday. However, it faces a near-certain veto by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, and without an enacted budget package by Wednesday, the Wolf administration will lose some spending authority, particularly for a wide variety of human and social services.

"It's far from over," said Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia.

Republicans urged Wolf to accept what they called a responsible budget that increases aid for education and holds the line on taxes. It would also keep the state government operating while the sides continue to negotiate through differences, they said.

Republicans positioned their bill as a taxpayer friendly alternative to Wolf's proposal to raise spending by $2.6 billion, relying on a $4-plus billion tax increase to help wipe out the deficit and deep, Republican-sponsored cuts in education aid in 2011.

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"Now it would be wonderful to spend that much money if we were willing to pay the price," said Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming. "You can't spend what you don't have and you can't spend what you're not willing to put a vote up for. I'm not willing to put a vote up for those kinds of tax increases and not one other member of this House was."

However, Democrats blasted the plan for leaving education aid below 2010's levels and said it was balanced on more than $1.5 billion in stopgaps that would worsen a long-term structural deficit that has left Pennsylvania's bond rating in the nation's basement.

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Pittsburgh, echoed the Wolf administration's contention that payment delays built into the GOP plan would mean just $8 million in increased aid to public schools.

"Let me tell you something about this budget," Frankel said. "Three cents. Three pennies. That's how much our kids' education is worth in the Republican budget before us, a net increase of $8 million in education funding split between 1.8 million students over the course of 180 days. Three cents per student, per day. Shameful."

The Republican budget plan would authorize nearly $30.2 billion in spending through the state's main bank account. That includes an approximately $1.15 billion spending increase, or about 4 percent, mainly for growing pension obligations, the rising cost of health care for the poor and a $100 million increase, or nearly 2 percent, in aid for public school instruction and operations.

It does not increase any broad-based taxes, it cuts corporate taxes and assumes that tax collections will grow slowly next year, at less than 1 percent. It also would count on $220 million in projected licensing receipts from yet-to-be-passed legislation to privatize the state-controlled wine and liquor store system. Wolf opposes the system's privatization.