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Pa. budget going through series of votes

June 27, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate, and its GOP governor have agreed on a $27.15 billion spending plan that is undergoing a series of votes this week.

Their agreement doesn’t necessarily mean there will be smooth sailing before lawmakers take their two-month summer break from the capital. On Monday evening, House Democrats were voting in opposition to 19 percent funding cuts to Pittsburgh, Penn State and Temple universities, which have aid packages that need a two-thirds majority for approval.

“It’s not helping the process,” state Rep. Todd Rock said from the House floor in a phone interview.

One bill that traditionally must pass as part of the budget is a fiscal code that guides how some state funds must be spent. However, Democrats and some Republicans might try to amend the bill with a provision to impose a tax or fee on the state’s booming natural gas-drilling industry, a move that Gov. Tom Corbett and House Republican leaders oppose.

“There are some who want to hurriedly place something in the fiscal code about Marcellus Shale” drilling, said state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland.

The proper studies and discussions about Marcellus Shale taxes or fees have not been completed, Kauffman said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, has warned for months that the budget would have trouble passing without rank-and-file lawmakers forcing a vote on a Marcellus Shale levy.

“That’s what is going to cause us problems,” state Sen. Richard Alloway said.

Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York, said he would vote “yes” on the proposed 2011-12 spending plan.

“It’s an on-time budget without new taxes. It restores some funding to education,” Alloway said, adding that legislators built back in $250 million for basic education funding.

In his first budget address since being elected last year, Corbett proposed returning K-12 education funding to 2008-09 levels, before federal stimulus dollars infused coffers. Alloway said the latest plan would not only restore $250 million for basic education, but also restore $100 million worth of accountability block grants for all-day kindergarten programs.

Overall, the budget reduces spending by $800 million compared to the fiscal year that ends Thursday, according to Rock, R-Franklin.

“It was (cuts) across the board,” Kauffman said. “You’re not going to find anyplace that went unscathed.”

Franklin County’s lawmakers said they’re confident the legislature will meet its July 1 deadline for the first time in years.

“We’re just waiting for everything to get in bill form on paper, so we can vote on it,” Rock said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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