Budget circus underway in Harrisburg


The state legislature and Gov. Corbett turn the stretch for home today as the final week of budget negotiations gets underway.

Arguably the most controversial item in the state budget itself is education funding, particularly in Philadelphia where mass layoffs are pending without a solution to its $304 million deficit.

While Corbett proposed a boost for distressed schools, it doesn't come close to addressing Philadelphia's shortfall.

But swirling around the $28-billion state spending plan are a host of other related and tangential issues on the agenda this week.

House Republicans want to gut SEPTA funding as part of a counter proposal to the Senate-approved transportation funding plan.

On tap today, a hearing on the transportation bill (SB1) approved by the Senate (45-5) to spend roughly $2.5 billion on roads, bridges and mass transit with money raised by lifting the oil franchise tax cap and raising license and registration fees and traffic fines.

The Inquirer's Paul Nussbaum has a look at a sweeping amendment being offered today by House Republicans that would drop the fee hikes and the $100 surcharge on speeding tickets and dramatically cut mass transit funding.

It also would demand concessions from unions and allow privatizing of some transit lines and give the state transportation secretary power to veto a transit budget if it was not balanced. 

But it would allow Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to raise local taxes. (In other words, pay for transit yourself cities!)

Also under discussion today more machinations in the privatizing of state liquor stores - a plan looking a lot of conservative than originally envisioned.

In another closely watched vote, the Senate is likely to consider an amendment to a budget bill that would expand Medicaid for up to 600,000 uninsured residents.

And in other news, the Senate is expected to consider the nomination of Superior Court Judge Correale Stevens to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who was found guilty of conspiracy and theft in connection with political campaign activities and is serving house arrest.

But wait, there's more. AP reports Corbett is expected to resubmit a contract to hire a private management company to run the state lottery after Attorney General Kathleen Kane rejected the first contract as illegal.

And, we can't forget the courts. ex-PA Turnpike chief Joe Brinnmeier and seven others - including former Senate Democratic leader Robert Mellow - head to trial in Harrisburg in a mass pay-to-play scheme..More from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review here.







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