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Pa. Senate approves budget plan

bill sent to House

June 30, 2010

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A belt-tightening $28 billion budget bill passed the state Senate by a comfortable margin and was sent the House, where leaders hoped to get an on-time budget to Gov. Ed Rendell's desk before midnight.

The 37-to-13 vote on Wednesday followed less than an hour of debate in which senators described it as a compromise product of difficult financial times.

"It's important for us to reflect the recession we're in ... by having a budget that constrains spending," said Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre.

The budget deal would boost spending over 2009-10 by less than 1 percent.

House Democratic leaders who hope to make the deadline will need help from Republicans -- many against the budget's size -- in mustering the supermajority required to waive a rule that requires 24 hours' notice before a bill is voted.

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Rendell's previous seven budgets have all been enacted after the July 1 start of the fiscal year. He came closest in 2006, while running for re-election, by signing the bill on July 2.

"We intend to take it up in the House as quickly as possible," said Brett Marcy, spokesman for the House Democratic caucus. "Our top priority remains passing this budget on time, and we plan to do whatever it takes to get that done."

The deal would add $250 million in basic-education funding without raising new taxes, but it also would spread cuts widely across state government and result in an unspecified number of government worker layoffs.

"The fact that we can continue to make an investment in education, I think, has been extremely satisfying to our members," said Johnna Pro, spokeswoman for House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia. "The reality of it is, we're in an economic crisis still, and without being able to raise revenues, we have to do cuts."

People with physical and developmental disabilities held a protests in the Capitol Rotunda over what they feared would be cutbacks in funding for the home and community assistance services they receive. People wishing to leave nursing homes are already receiving fewer than the usual 15 hours of assistance, said Cassie James of Philadelphia.

"We're here to fight for our lives," said James, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. "This is only one year. They say next year is going to be worse."

Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, one of the 13 "no" votes, said he was concerned about "too many unanswered questions" regarding $850 million in yet-unapproved federal stimulus money and an agreement to delay consideration of a Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction tax until the fall.

"I'm just concerned that we're setting ourselves up for a very, very difficult budget year next year," Argall said.

Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said it was too soon to know how many state workers would lose their jobs if the budget passes. He said there was no specific deal about which additional cuts would be made if the $850 million does not get approved.

"There's a gentleman's agreement, so to speak, that we will work cooperatively," Tuma said. "It won't just be the governor acting unilaterally, giving everyone a list: 'Here are the cuts."'

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