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State Budget Amended in House, Negotiations Ongoing with Governor

Negotiations between state House and Senate Republican leaders and Governor Corbett began in earnest this week and continue as the week ends.  The House amended SB 1466 and maintained the spending level of that passed by the Senate, at $27.656 billion.

While legislative leaders had previously suggested final passage of a budget possible by June 13, that date has now slipped by, due to ongoing negotiations.  But the leaders still expect to pass a budget, tax code bill and other legislation well before the June 30 constitutional deadline.

Corbett and those leaders met again Thursday but have not yet worked out a final spend number, nor agreement on other issues that will be considered along with the budget.  Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre) said Thursday’s discussion focused on “the world of issues” that the governor and leaders would like to get done in connection with the budget.  Corman and House Speaker Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) said that education reform ideas including school vouchers and cyberschool funding reform, and a tax credit for the proposed Shell Oil petrochemical refinery plant in western Pennsylvania were discussed.

Corbett’s Budget Secretary Charles Zogby has said that the General Assembly’s bills, which equal a 1.8-percent spending increase, are “unsustainable” and too high.  And this year, the administration is also seeking legislative approval for four other pieces of legislation in the budget deal, including creation of the Liberty Loan Fund, which would combine many state borrowing programs; a major corrections reform package; reform of charter schools; and an teacher accountability and testing bill.  In addition this week, word leaked out that the Governor is also seeking as much as $67 million in tax credits for 25 years for businesses in the state purchasing ethane and ethylene products, a move seen as providing a double tax break for Shell, which is negotiating over locating a cracker plant in western Pennsylvania (see story below.)

This week, the House approved several amendments to the budget, increasing funding for education block grants and land conservation programs and taking funds from DCED and other agencies. While bipartisan support for increasing education funding remains in the legislature, the details and amounts are still being debated.

House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph (R-Delaware), offered an amendment that would reverse course on Corbett cuts to the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund (Key ’93), which was unanimously adopted. The House also approved an amendment by Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), to restore state funding to the Department of Environmental Protection to the 2010-11 level, again using funds from DCED and CFA.