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Pa. Senate passes spending and tax bills

October 06, 2009

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- The state Senate approved key spending and tax bills Tuesday in an effort to pressure the House to go along with the latest effort to end Pennsylvania's long budget stalemate.

The $27.8 billion spending plan passed with overwhelming support shortly after Gov. Ed Rendell met with top lawmakers in an effort to close out remaining differences in the politically divided Legislature.

"Certainly it's ultimately a compromise, and when you have a compromise, of course there are things that you like and things you don't like," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre. "But it does meet the needs of Pennsylvania and it does make an historic ... contribution to and investment in education."

Overall, the budget would cut spending by more than 1 percent from last year but boost instruction and operations of public schools by $300 million, or 5.7 percent, a provision Rendell insisted on.

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Spending would be supported by nearly $500 million in higher taxes on some businesses, as well as on sales of cigarettes and little cigars, to help resolve Pennsylvania's multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.

The spending bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate 43-6, while the tax bill passed 35-14.

It remains unclear how the Democrat-controlled House will react once it returns to session later Tuesday.

In addition, major disagreements between the House and Senate continue to dog legislation to legalize and tax casino table games, considered a key element in helping fill state government's budget hole.

A comprehensive state budget is more than three months late, the nation's longest such delay.

With hundreds of millions of dollars in state subsidies held up by the stalemate, the private organizations and businesses that deliver many of Pennsylvania's social services to the poor are closing or laying off workers, putting off bills and borrowing money to survive.

Among the hardest hit are shelters for the homeless and victims of domestic violence, food pantries and nutrition programs, mental health counseling, and child care.

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