The Pennsylvania Senate has approved a $27.7 billion state budget plan that would avoid many of the cuts Governor Tom Corbett included in his 2012-13 budget. The plan penned by the Republican majority in the senate was approved Wednesday by a 39-8 vote. The vote came after nearly two hours of debate.
The spending plan divvies up about $900 million in newly expected revenues among Pennsylvania's state-supported universities, struggling public schools, equine industry, hospitals, nursing homes and county-run social service programs. The additional money was added to the budget after income in recent months has started to show larger than expected growth.
"While I still consider this spending plan a work in progress, I voted for this improved budget because it makes crucial restorations for basic schools funding, important human services and programs and without raising taxes or incurring debt," said Senator Wayne Fontana (D- Allegheny County). "In the future, I hope the final budget will further address the funding issues with the social services block grant program, but I understand that this budget is a big improvement on what the governor proposed in February and will move the process forward."
Corbett held open the possibility he'd support a smaller increase but said the state must save for the growing bill for public employee pensions.
"The whole idea of this administration that I am trying to do is to deal with the problems that I'm faced with, and deal with them as quickly as we possibly can, not kick them down the road," said Corbett.
The governor thinks adding $500 million to last year's spending plan is more appropriate. "[T]hese are negotiations, and negotiations have two ends, and we'll work toward something in between," he said.
Democrats tried unsuccessfully in the Appropriations Committee to insert another nearly $250 million to undo cuts to child care, social services and the cash assistance programs.
The bill also will need approval from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where lawmakers are just beginning to scrutinize the Senate's product. A spokesman for the House Republican leadership said they shared the same priorities of first restoring money to education and social services.
Meanwhile, lawmakers said they have secured commitments from the presidents of 18 state-supported universities, including Penn State, Temple and Pitt, to keep 2012-13 tuition increases at or below the rate of inflation if lawmakers wipe out Corbett's proposal to cut 20 percent — $230 million combined — from their annual share of taxpayer aid.