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Pa. lawmakers approve 2008-09 budget

July 04, 2008

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Pennsylvania lawmakers on Friday passed a 2008-09 state budget -- and a flurry of other legislation -- four days into state government's new fiscal year.

The deal was wrapped up early enough for some lawmakers to make it back to their home districts in time for the Independence Day fireworks.

The nearly $28.3 billion budget plan will boost spending by $1 billion over the just-ended fiscal year, with more than 90 percent of that increase going to education and social services.

Public schools will get an unprecedented $274 million increase, or 5.5 percent, for operations and instruction. An additional $65 million, or 40 percent more, will go to charter schools.

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The Department of Public Welfare budget will rise by $633 million, or 6.6 percent, with huge increases in primary and nursing home care for the poor, services for the mentally retarded, child welfare services and help for the working poor who have children.

Payments on debt will rise by nearly $50 million, or more than 5 percent.

"Like putting anything together, everybody's not going to get what they want," said Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, the Appropriations Committee chairman, shortly before the House voted 170-32 in favor of the main budget bill. "That's what I mean by you've got to make choices. I think we made some excellent choices."

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said limiting the budget's growth to roughly 4 percent -- slightly less than Gov. Ed Rendell had sought -- and preserving the "rainy day" contingency fund positioned the state better to weather the current economic downturn.

The measure, which passed the Senate 49-1 without debate, awaits Gov. Ed Rendell's signature.

House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, noted that it did not provide any broad tax increases, avoided furloughs and was balanced at a time when other large industrialized states have faced much more painful budget choices this year.

Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said he was against the budget because it relied too much on borrowing, failed to adequately restrain growth and did not cut taxes.

"We keep hearing from all the people that want, want want from Harrisburg," he said. "But I'm convinced that the majority of Pennsylvanians don't want anything but to let their hard-earned money stay in their pocket."

Legislation to help seniors maintain eligibility for prescription drug subsidies under the PACE and PACENET programs passed the House unanimously Friday, and a bill to collect 911 system fees from people who use the Internet for phone service was approved 198 to 4.

A package of energy bills that would provide more than $650 million to encourage alternative energy and fuels and improve conservation was sent to the governor, and the Legislature approved billions in borrowing for economic development projects, water and sewer systems and other needs.

Sen. Gibson E. Armstrong, R-Lancaster, the Appropriations chairman, said the infrastructure needs, rising cost of construction materials and favorable interest-rate climate justified the passage of substantial new borrowing.

"It's not going to be cheaper to do any of these things next year or the year after," he said on the floor.

Lawmakers expect to return in September for what will likely be a packed legislative calendar. Senate Republicans said they will not convene the traditional lame-duck session that has previously been held in the weeks after legislative elections in even-numbered years.

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On the Net:

Breakdown of budget funding: http://www.hacd.net/budget/200809/documents/2008-09GFB070408.pdf




Budget details



Details of the 2008-09 state budget approved Friday by the state Legislature:

BUDGET

· Almost $28.3 billion for fiscal year 2008-09, which began Tuesday.

· $1 billion increase, or 4 percent, over last year's approved spending; $72.4 million less than Gov. Rendell's original proposal.

· Does not require any broad-based tax or fee increases; does not dip into state's budget reserve.

· Uses more than $500 million in one-time sources to prop up flagging revenue.

· Agreement before fiscal year's end averted threatened furloughs of 25,000 state workers.

SPENDING

· $274 million increase, or 5.5 percent, for public schools; each district gets at least 3 percent more.

· $65 million increase, or 40 percent, for charter schools.

· $633 million increase, or 6.6 percent, for the Department of Public Welfare, including health care for the poor, families with children and services for the mentally retarded and disabled.

· Nearly $50 million increase, or more than 5 percent, for debt payments.

· $90.6 million cut, or 20 percent, in state contribution to school employee pension fund.

· $45 million cut, or 50 percent, in program to buy laptop computers for high school classrooms.

BORROWING

· $800 million, repaid from slot-machine gambling revenues, for dams and water and sewer systems over two years.

· $500 million, repaid from electric utility gross receipts tax revenue, for alternative energy projects over two years.

· $800 million, repaid from general tax revenues, for civic redevelopment projects over four years.

· $350 million, repaid from motorist fees and taxes, to fix about 400 of the state's most dangerous bridges.

· $15 million, repaid from motorist fees and taxes, to improve airports and railways.

· $400 million, repaid from general tax revenues, to improve water and sewer systems (must be approved by voters).

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