Legislative aides have been working for weeks on the details of a state spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget negotiation process is set to go public as Republicans in the state House of Representatives said last week they will likely bring a plan to the floor the week of June 10.
The plans sticks close to one Governor Tom Corbett unveiled in his February budget address, and because the Republicans control the House by a comfortable margin, it’s almost certain they will send it to the Senate with minimal changes.
“I’m sure the debate will be lively,” said one House Republican staffer. “But in the end, we spelled out our position and it will probably go to the Senate pretty much as we introduced it.”
The Republican proposal spends $28.3 billion, which is a $578 million, or 2.1 percent, increase over the current fiscal year.
“The House budget proposal outlines priorities related to education, health and human services, environmental protection, public safety, job creation and government transparency,” said state Representative Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in a statement. “We are recommending a $100 million increase for basic education; supporting the governor’s priority to put 300 new state troopers on the streets; restoring funding for programs that deal with diseases like diabetes, ALS and epilepsy; providing funding for county conservation districts; and increasing funding for the Office of Open Records.”
If tradition holds, the House-approved budget will be rejected by the Senate, a move that would send the legislation to a conference committee made up of leaders from both chambers.
This year, on top of their constitutional mandate to balance the budget, negotiators have controversial issues to consider. Corbett is pushing hard for privatization of the state liquor store system. The House approved a sell-off plan in March. The Senate Law and Justice Committee has held two hearings on the plan but has shown no sign of moving it to the full Senate.
On another front, both Republicans and Democrats support funding for bridge and road repair and construction, and for mass transit. But the details have to be worked out. The Senate Transportation Committee approved a bipartisan plan that eliminates a cap on the wholesale cost of fuel, but also raises numerous driver licensing fees. Corbett’s plan relies almost exclusively on eliminating the wholesale cap.
Those pressures mean that this year could mark the first time under the Corbett administration that negotiations go beyond the June 30 end-of-fiscal year deadline.