Pa. Senate to answer House with own budget bill

July 18, 2009 12:21:49 PM PDT
A House Democratic spending proposal will go nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate as an impasse that has stripped state government of the ability to pay most of its bills stretches toward a fourth week. The earliest floor vote on a Republican counterproposal will be Monday, senators said Saturday, during an unusual weekend session called as legislators try to find common ground in the stalemate.

The Senate GOP plan is expected to be an approximately $27.4 billion bill that does not raise taxes and fills a $3.3 billion deficit leftover from last year with spending cuts, federal budget aid and money from a variety of state reserves, Republicans said.

Overall, it would cut spending 3 percent from the budget approved by the Legislature a year ago. The $29.1 billion House bill would increase spending by 3 percent over last year's approved budget. It also increases a tax rate on businesses and does not pay for $1.3 billion in higher education subsidies, including the State System of Higher Education, student loans and community colleges Senate Democrats accused Republicans of willfully dragging out the budget impasse by readying another bill that will not pass the House. Instead, Republicans immediately should begin negotiating an agreement that can pass both chambers, Democrats said.

Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said Republicans can do both, and are willing to negotiate, although aides said no high-level negotiations were expected between Gov. Ed Rendell and top legislators over the weekend.

Still, Pileggi said it is important to put the GOP's stance on record.

It is worth it to "provide a spending plan for the commonwealth that is sustainable, does not involve new taxes and one that the governor could sign and end this budget stalemate," Pileggi told reporters Saturday.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre, also said it should be made immediately clear that the state will provide higher education dollars, easing worries by students about tuition increases.

On Friday, the last paychecks for many state employees will go out, until a budget is signed. Meanwhile, the state is asking vendors to continue providing services without pay.

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