The Pennsylvania state House approved the 2011-2012 budget with a little more than 24 hours to spare. Republicans are praising the spending plan for holding the line on taxes but democrats say the GOP decision to not tax shale gas extraction or use more of the budget surplus made the budget more painful than it needed to be.
“We’ve been saying, we don’t want to take money from other line items, there’s enough pain in the budget you’ve introduced. We want to spend the surplus and we want to use new revenue – Marcellus shale—and other revenues that we’ve introduced bills on to plug these holes,” said Luzerne County Democrat Phyllis Mundy during floor debate.
Democrats had urged the Republicans to spend the $650 million dollar surplus built up over the current fiscal year as income topped projections. Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph said using surplus money would not cover what the commonwealth owes in liabilities. “Fifty-point-two billion dollars in liabilities and we’re here we’re talking about anywhere between two, three, four hundred million dollars in unanticipated revenue. So you can’t compare millions dollars in cash with billions of dollars in liabilities,” said Adolph.
The Republican leadership ultimately brought forward an additional $200 million. The bill passed on a nearly party-line vote, 109-92.
Democratic House Appropriations Committee Chairman Joe Markosek said the budget is full of gimmicks, “I think it's the Houdini budget, you know, as I just stand here we can think of I'm sure a lot of other terms.” Among the “gimmicks” is a requirement that the PA Department of Welfare find $400 million in savings in its budget and the listing of $100 million dollars to be spent in the next 12 months in the 2012-2013 budget.
Funding for education at all levels will be lower than the current year. The State System of Higher Education will see an 18% cut and state-related universities will see a 19% drop. Community college funding will fall 10%. Child welfare and the Department of Health will also see cuts. Spending will increase for state police and state courts.
The Governor is expected to sign the bill tomorrow – it will be the first on-time budget in nine years and the first time in more than four decades that the budget has been smaller than the year before.