Legislature sends budget to Rendell on time, ending era of blown budget deadlines

For the first time in eight years, Pennsylvania has a budget on time.

The state House, in a 117-84 vote with no debate, passed the proposed $28 billion budget minutes after it came up for consideration Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, the state Senate took less than half an hour to approve it, 37-13, with little debate.

The bill now heads to the Gov. Rendell for his signature. It is the first time in eight years that the state will have completed a budget ahead of the July 1 fiscal year deadline.

“We proved to the people of Pennsylvania that by working together, we can solve difficult problems,” said Sen. Mike O’Pake (D., Berks).

The budget agreement had been struck earlier in the week by Rendell and top lawmakers. It calls for spending about $1 billion less than Rendell had originally proposed, and would boost spending over this year less than 1 percent.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said as debate started that the bill reflects that “we are living through a national recession.”

As a result, he said, “we had to make tough but necessary decisions to produce a balanced budget.”

The plan has its share of question marks. It relies on receiving hundreds of millions in federal Medicaid funds from Congress that do not appear likely to materialize. And it calls for taxing the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation — but puts off until fall such critical details as what the tax rate will be, how much revenue is expected, and how that revenue is to be disbursed.

The budget agreement does include a $250 million increase in basic-education funding for public schools. But to help offset the state’s $1.2 billion deficit, it proposes steep cuts to state parks, environmental protection programs, health-care centers, and libraries, among other items.

That, in turn, will likely translate into layoffs of about 1,000 state employees, according to administration estimates.

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