Pennsylvania budget unsigned; Berks lawmakers react to passage in House, Senate

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Midnight marked the arrival of Pennsylvania state government's new fiscal year, which came with an election-year budget bill approved by the Legislature, but not signed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

The Republican, who used to boast about his perfect record in signing budgets on time, said early Tuesday morning as he left the Capitol that he wouldn't immediately sign the $29.1 billion spending plan that lawmakers sent him.

Leaders of the House and Senate Republican majorities couldn't drum up enough support for the pension overhaul Corbett wanted in conjunction with the budget.

"The budget I received tonight makes significant investments in our common priorities of education, jobs and human services," Corbett said. "It does not address all the difficult choices that still need to be made. It leaves pensions, one of the largest expenses to the commonwealth and our school districts, on the table, leaving the weight on Pennsylvania taxpayers and perpetuating the tug of war over state funding every single year."

The plan would reduce future state and school employees' pensions to save more than $10 billion over 30 years.

What happens next is unclear. Corbett said he hadn't agreed to every detail in the main budget bill before it passed, so he wants to review it first.

In the meantime, members of Berks County's delegation to the state Legislature weighed in with their reaction to the state budget.

"We are dealing with a limited number of hard-earned tax dollars. When presented with the option to cut spending or increase taxes, the people I represent overwhelmingly told me not to raise their taxes. This budget reflects that opinion," said Senator David Argall, R-29th District, who voted in favor of the budget.


"This budget is a disappointment. It's a disappointment for our public schools, it's a disappointment to the hundreds of thousands of people waiting for health insurance and it's a disappointment for the citizens of this Commonwealth who go to work every day and barely make ends meet," said Representative Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks County, who voted against the budget. "Pennsylvania citizens need to come first. It is not the working class, students or seniors on fixed incomes that are protected under this budget. I have always worked across party lines and believe compromise usually produces the best results for the people of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, this budget is nothing more than one-time-fixes and a Band-Aid approach to budgeting. If you ran your house like this, the walls would be crumbling."


"This budget invests in the core functions of government while bringing spending under control to protect taxpayers," said Representative Jim Cox, who voted in favor of the budget. We've seen a slowdown in revenues, which left a significant hole in the state's finances. Instead of looking to taxpayers to hand over more money, we were able to use some outside-the-box thinking to fund the budget. At a time when the government in Washington, D.C., is suffering from gridlock, we were able to work together in the Pennsylvania Capitol to deliver a budget for the people of Pennsylvania."


"This new state budget rightfully prioritizes education spending, by investing a record-setting level toward schools at all levels – prekindergarten, primary, secondary, special, higher and vocational-technical," said Representative Gary Day, R-Berks/Lehigh counties, who voted in favor of the budget. "Education still encompasses the second largest chunk of state spending and shows our commitment to ensuring that our children receive the highest-quality instruction that we can provide."


"It is a plus that we are funding state spending with currently available resources and no new taxes or borrowing," said Representative Mark Gillen, R-Berks County, who voted in favor of the budget. "I was gratified to see the additional funding for special education after six years without an increase. The robust funding increase for the Pre-K Counts program is an early childhood education priority supported by this budget."


"This is my third budget vote since arriving in the Legislature, and for the third time in a row, I am pleased announce that we have passed an on-time, balanced budget that contains no tax increases. We were able to do so by focusing on the core functions of state government and clearly identifying our top priorities," said Representative Ryan Mackenzie, R-Berks/Lehigh counties. "This budget invests $10.5 billion in K-12 education – a record level of state funding. This represents an increase of $314 million over last year. Special education has been increased by $20 million, the first increase for such programs in six years, and pre-kindergarten programs saw a boost of $10 million."


"Despite this challenging budget, we were able to pass an on-time, fiscally responsible spending plan that prioritizes the needs of the people of this Commonwealth," said Representative David Maloney, R-Berks County, who voted in favor of the budget. "Not only is more money than ever in state money in Pennsylvania's history going to education, but we also included a $1.4 billion line item for our state pensions that was sorely needed due to decisions made by previous administrations."


"This budget is based on smoke and mirrors," said Representative Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, who voted against the budget. "The sources of income are simply not there. The Corbett administration based the budget on unsustainable, one-time revenue sources including fund transfers and administrative adjustments that will likely leave Pennsylvania in an even larger hole come January. I could not support the drastically irresponsible estimates and shortcomings."


"We have worked hard in Harrisburg to help Republicans and Gov. Tom Corbett understand that Pennsylvania is deeper in its financial quagmire because of the policies of the past four years," said Senator Judy Schwank, D-11th District, who voted against the budget. "Billions of dollars are being squandered by the commonwealth. This should be money we can invest with to offset education funding shortfalls that schools districts continue to pass on to local taxpayers through higher property taxes."

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