Monday, December 7, 2015

Senate Moves Bipartisan Budget, Pension Reform Bills To House To Uncertain Future

The Senate has passed a bipartisan General Fund Budget bill-- Senate Bill 1073 (Browne-R- Lehigh) by a vote of 43 to 7 and passed a pension reform bill-- Senate Bill 1082 (Browne-R-Lehigh) by a vote of 38 to 12 that Gov. Wolf will sign, but which face a very uncertain future in the House.
The $30.8 billion General Fund budget includes $600 million in new revenue to help fund $350 million in new education spending.  The Senate is still working on specific options to fund the $600 million to balance the budget.
They are still looking at eliminating Sales Tax exemptions as the main funding source, but they have not said which ones.
Conservative House Republicans have scheduled a House Appropriations Committee meeting for today (Monday) off the floor to consider their budget vehicle-- House Bill 1460 (Adolph-R-Delaware) after the House convenes at 1:00.
Many House Republicans want to pass a new barebones $30.3 billion budget without general tax increases.
Click Here for a Senate Republican staff budget spreadsheet for Senate Bill 1073. Click Here for a House Democratic budget spreadsheet on Senate Bill 1073.
Senate Republicans
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said the bipartisan General Fund budget bill approved Monday includes cost-cutting reform and historic funding for education without the need for the massive tax increases originally proposed by Gov. Wolf.
The $30.8 billion plan is approximately $1.15 billion less than the Governor’s original budget request.
The plan does not include the governor’s proposed massive tax increases. The bulk of funding increases in the budget are dedicated to education. The plan increases Basic Education funding by $350 million, early childhood education by $60 million, Special Education by $50 million and higher education by $82 million.
The budget package includes landmark reform of public pensions – the number-one cause of property tax increases. The reform requires new state workers and new school employees to enroll in a combination of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-type benefit as used in the private sector.
As part of the budget package, the Senate also will take the first step in getting the Commonwealth out of the liquor business, providing for the private sale of wine at restaurants and grocery stores, as well as many other changes that will result in increased customer convenience.
“Senate Republicans have worked for the past 10 months to develop a fiscally responsible budget that avoids the massive tax increases that were the lynchpin of Governor Wolf’s original budget proposal” Sen. Corman said. “While the agreement is not perfect, it represents a plausible solution to a crisis that has threatened core services of government.  These landmark achievements come with a price, but the cost is significantly less than the governor’s original request in March.”
Other highlights of the plan include:
-- $1.5 million in new funding for a new pilot program to address the heroin epidemic,
an additional $2.8 million to combat the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza,
-- $3.4 million in new funding for the State Food Purchase Program,
-- $10 million to increase home- and community-based services for 1,075 individuals with intellectual disabilities, and
-- New funding for remediating abandoned coal mining sites, hospital assessments, EMS providers and attendant care programs.
Senate Democrats Comment
“This was a grueling, troubling and very difficult budget but it is time to bring closure,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny). “The citizens of Pennsylvania, our schools, service providers and taxpayers need relief and fiscal stability now.
“Our main focus was on helping schools, repairing the safety net, promoting job creation and ensuring fiscal responsibility and that’s why it has taken so long to find common ground,” Sen. Costa said. “The plan provides a more than $460 million boost for schools and it wipes away a $1.3 billion structural deficit.”
“Schools will be helped and we’ve started the process of restoring crucial human service program dollars that were slashed over the last four years,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Minority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “The budget includes key Senate Democrat priorities and proposals with the governor’s initiatives intertwined.”
Sen. Hughes said the agreement includes more than 70 percent of the governor’s original request for education, 100 percent of his human service ask, 70 percent of the community and economic request, and puts Pennsylvania on the path to fully restore – within three years – all of the funds cut from safety net programs by the Corbett administration.
“Given the recent budget history and the serious difficulties that have been imposed on Pennsylvania citizens as a result of deep cuts in education, human services and job creation it is clear that we had to change course and make investments,” Sen. Hughes said.
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