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Some progress made on Pa. budget front

July 14, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania House of Representatives took steps Monday that were designed to move the legislature closer to adopting a 2009-10 budget, which was due to be passed two weeks ago.

However, some lawmakers criticized the momentum as being in the wrong direction.

"It was ridiculous what they did today ... All it is, is a back step for Pennsylvanians," said state Rep. Mario Civera, of Delaware County, as quoted by the Associated Press.

The House reconvened at 5:30 p.m. to learn more about two spending plans OK'd by the Appropriations Committee just moments earlier. One was the 10-week-old Pennsylvania Senate proposal (Bill 850) and the other was similar to Gov. Ed Rendell's plan from February.

State Rep. Todd Rock called The Herald-Mail after peeking into the Appropriations Committee session.

"It's standing room only in there," said Rock, R-Franklin.

He said the Appropriations Committee's chairman, Philadelphia Democrat Dwight Evans, attached a "negative recommendation" to Senate Bill 850. And the governor's plan was stripped of $1.3 billion in higher-education funding to close the budgetary deficit.

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Changes to the governor's budget were made to eliminate tax increases "knowing full well the money for higher education is going to have to go back in there," Rock said.

Senate Bill 850 was resurrected after being voted down by the House Appropriations Committee on June 8. Even Monday morning, Rendell was quoted as calling the plan "fundamentally dead."

State Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York, said Rendell was wrong in calling the proposal dead.

"We stand firm. We stand behind our budget," he said.

Alloway said 98 percent of e-mails and phone calls received by his office offer encouragement to not be bullied by the governor, who proposed the personal income tax be raised from 3.07 to 3.57 percent over three years.

State Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, said he's receiving the same message from constituents. He said he suspects the House Democrats, who are in the majority, have not united to pass a spending plan with tax increases for that very reason.

"Their members across the commonwealth are hearing the same thing," Kauffman said.

The state is anticipating $27.5 billion in tax revenue and stimulus money. Friday marks the first payday that 77,000 state workers will get diminished checks due to the budget impasse.

Kauffman entered a caucus session Monday afternoon expecting that some movement might be made on a House Republicans proposal from last Friday. That proposal would create a tax amnesty plan, use lease payments from oil wells, and dip into the so-called Rainy Day fund.

Rendell had criticized aspects of the House Republicans proposal but called it "a step in the right direction." The governor praised them for acknowledging new revenue must be generated, rather than just making cuts.

"He recognized it's a solid plan and would be something to reckon with," Kauffman said.

House rules for budget legislation might prevent any votes from taking place until the week of July 27, although if there is bipartisan support those rules can be waived, the Associated Press reported.

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