Dollars and sense

Gov. Tom Corbett has kept quiet about the $29.1 bil­lion budget spend­ing plan, but time is run­ning out.

Pennsylvania gov­ernors have 10 days to re­view bills that pass the le­gis­lature be­fore de­cid­ing wheth­er to sign or veto them, and Gov. Tom Corbett is tak­ing his time with the budget.

The state Sen­ate passed the budget on June 30 by a vote of 26-24. All Demo­crats voted against it, and they were joined by Bucks County Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Chuck McIl­hin­ney, who ob­jec­ted to ad­di­tion­al frack­ing on state forest lands.

Later that day, the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives passed the budget by a vote of 108-95. All Demo­crats op­posed the budget, and they were joined by three Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Rep. John Taylor.

Corbett has kept quiet about the $29.1 bil­lion spend­ing plan since is­su­ing a state­ment upon its pas­sage. The gov­ernor sup­ports what he calls the “sig­ni­fic­ant” in­vest­ments in edu­ca­tion, jobs and hu­man ser­vices.

However, the is­sue of state gov­ern­ment pen­sions was not ad­dressed in the budget. Corbett wants to re­form the sys­tem for new hires to save money for the state and school dis­tricts.

“Pen­sion costs are con­sum­ing more than 60 cents of every new dol­lar of gen­er­al fund rev­en­ues,” he said. “For the single par­ent who struggles to pay the bills every day, for the child go­ing to school who de­serves a qual­ity edu­ca­tion, for the eld­erly couple liv­ing on a fixed in­come, I will con­tin­ue to fight for pen­sion re­form and real re­lief for Pennsylvania’s tax­pay­ers.

“Every dol­lar saved through pen­sion re­form is a dol­lar we have to in­vest in Pennsylvania’s chil­dren, to re­duce wait­ing lists for much-needed ser­vices for our most vul­ner­able, and to make im­prove­ments to our pub­lic safety sys­tem.”

While Corbett’s re­view of the budget is un­der­way, ser­vices provided by state gov­ern­ment are con­tinu­ing un­in­ter­rup­ted. In ad­di­tion, state em­ploy­ees are be­ing paid.

The budget is ex­pec­ted to in­clude a $2-a-pack tax on ci­gar­ettes sold in Phil­adelphia. That amend­ment passed with bi­par­tis­an sup­port. 

The money would go to the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia to help with its seem­ingly end­less budget woes.

The to­bacco tax would raise about $90 mil­lion for the school dis­trict in the first year. The money is much needed, as the dis­trict’s budget short­fall could res­ult in re­duc­tions in teach­ers, coun­selors, nurses and text­books.

City Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Dar­rell Clarke is­sued a state­ment thank­ing state Sen. An­thony Wil­li­ams, who pro­posed the ci­gar­ette tax. He also cred­ited the Phil­adelphia del­eg­a­tion, led by Rep. Cher­elle Park­er. And he singled out Taylor, a Re­pub­lic­an, for fight­ing for Phil­adelphia stu­dents. Clarke did not men­tion that Wil­li­ams, Park­er, Taylor and all Phil­adelphia Demo­crats voted against the budget.

“I sin­cerely hope Gov­ernor Corbett keeps his word and signs this le­gis­la­tion in­to law. I will con­tin­ue to work with my col­leagues in City Coun­cil and in the Gen­er­al As­sembly to­ward truly ad­equate fund­ing for all pub­lic schools in the com­mon­wealth of Pennsylvania. Let us en­deavor to not just keep our schools afloat, but to en­hance learn­ing en­vir­on­ments for our stu­dents. We should not settle for merely stop­ping a de­cline in our schools,” Clarke said.

Loc­al law­makers blas­ted the budget.

Sen. Tina Tartagli­one op­posed the plan be­cause it does not in­clude an ex­pan­sion of Medi­caid and, in her view, does not ad­equately fund job cre­ation and re­devel­op­ment pro­grams.

Rep. John Sabat­ina Jr. op­posed the budget be­cause he be­lieves it does not fully fund loan pro­grams for small busi­nesses and short­changes com­munity-based ser­vices for dis­abled in­di­vidu­als.

“I can­not in good con­science vote for a budget which bal­ances it­self on the backs of small-busi­ness own­ers and dis­abled in­di­vidu­als,” he said.

Corbett re­ceived the budget on Ju­ly 1. He has un­til Fri­day to sign the budget, veto it en­tirely or veto spe­cif­ic spend­ing meas­ures. If he does not act, the budget be­comes law. ••

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