Corbett inks Pa. budget ahead of midnight deadline

Gov. Tom Corbett (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

June 30, 2011 9:11:09 PM PDT
Gov. Tom Corbett signed a new state budget Thursday night, reaching his goal of enacting a 2011-12 spending plan before the new fiscal year began - by 15 minutes.

The signing ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda followed a dizzying week of lawmaking and deal cutting by the GOP majorities in the House and Senate.

"It puts us on the road to financial recovery," the Republican governor said. "It confronts and deals realistically with a $4.2 billion structural deficit. This is a budget that works for Pennsylvania."

The $27.2 billion spending plan makes deep cuts to education and human services but does not raise new taxes to cope with a drop in state revenues and the loss of federal stimulus money.

"We must balance our spending with the many needs of the commonwealth," Corbett said. "In a time of fiscal hardship, government must make difficult decisions but live within its means."

It was the first time in nine years the state budget was been completed before the start of July.

The budget bill, passed without a single Democratic vote, cut spending by 3 percent, lowered business taxes and left hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve.

Democrats warned that it would prompt higher tuition, property tax increases and layoffs, and argued a hospital assessment was indeed a new tax. They were outgunned in the Legislature, even losing a close fight on Thursday evening over new limits on school board tax increases.

Details of the bill were unveiled Monday after two weeks of intense, closed-door negotiations between Corbett and Republican lawmakers. The budget included cuts of about $1.1 billion to public schools and universities as Corbett insisted on reductions in state government and no tax increases to balance what he called a multibillion-dollar deficit.

Overall, the plan will reduce money for public schools by roughly 10 percent - with the poorest districts sustaining the biggest blows - and by nearly 20 percent for state-supported universities.

Democrats, who were excluded from budget negotiations, complained bitterly about the plan, saying the GOP was balancing the budget on the backs of schools, students, the sick, jobless and needy while businesses, including the exploration giants flocking to Pennsylvania to drill into the vast Marcellus Shale natural gas formation, did not share in the pain.