By MARC LEVY
2:09 PM EDT, June 4, 2012
Pennsylvania state lawmakers returned to Harrisburg on Monday for several more weeks of work to wrap up a new state budget and potentially a variety of other major bills being sought by Gov. Tom Corbett.
Majority Republicans in both chambers expected a briefing on the status of closed-door negotiations on an approximately $27.6 billion budget assembled by their leaders behind closed doors. Democrats were not invited to the talks, and complete details of the plan were not being made public. Republicans planned to deliver their proposal to the Republican governor on Tuesday.
“We basically have a spending proposal that all sides can agree to, the House and Senate, but obviously we’re just two-thirds of the process,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre. “We’re going to discuss it with the governor and his administration, and get their input.”
The new fiscal year starts July 1.
A major focus for Republicans is deciding how much of Corbett’s proposed cuts to education and social services they can wipe out and still call their spending plan sustainable over the long term. Lawmakers are proposing a slight increase in spending from Corbett’s proposal because of better-than-expected state tax collections.
In February, Corbett proposed a $27.1 billion hold-the-line plan that grappled with rising pension, debt and health care costs. It would reduce business taxes, cut aid for universities and social services and eliminate a $150 million cash benefit for disabled adults who can’t work and a $100 million program that helps school districts pay for full-day kindergarten.
Before lawmakers wrap up and leave Harrisburg for the summer, Corbett may seek passage of various education bills, such as changing how public school teachers are evaluated, as well as changes to criminal sentencing practices designed to save money and help offenders stay out of trouble.
The governor also wants to see his former chief of staff, Bill Ward, approved by the Senate to serve as an Allegheny County judge, and he is seeking tax breaks for a multibillion-dollar petrochemical refinery planned by Shell Oil Co. in western Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing a plan to fix Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation trust fund by taking out loans to pay off a debt to the federal government and narrowing benefits to help keep the fund solvent in the future.
Democrats say they have serious concerns about the proposal because it would effectively make employees, and not employers, shoulder the entire cost of keeping the trust fund solvent in the future.