Liberals and conservatives slam budget deal

A few hours ago, the State Senate voted to approve the budget proposal outlined yesterday by Gov. Ed Rendell. Over at the blog Capitol Ideas, John Micek notes that opposition to the budget came from a mixture of the most conservative and most liberal lawmakers. We've noticed a similar trend among various advocacy groups in Harrisburg.

Let's start with the Commonwealth Foundation, a right-wing think tank that pushes for lower taxes and less government at the state level. According to a statement by released by CEO Matthew Brouillette last night, the budget proposal “merely puts off the day of financial reckoning caused by years of overspending.” Brouillette goes on to slam the legislature for increasing funding for so-called “WAMs” or walking around money. The statement ends with the suggestion that the budget is unconstitutional because it relies heavily on federal funding for Medicaid, which is far from certain.

Now, Commonwealth often slams the governor and legislature for tax and budget policy. This time however, it was joined by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a liberal outfit with close ties to organized labor. PBPC expressed concern about proposed budget cuts, as well as the fact that lawmakers chose not to close several corporate tax loopholes and dropped a proposed tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco. It also criticized the deal for relying on the Medicaid money.

Liberal groups like Clean Water Action and Democracy Rising (a reform group), as well as conservative columnist Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review have criticized the agreement as well. The main supporters of the bill appear to be moderate lawmakers eager to avoid a repeat of last year's prolonged budget standoff.

What does this mean for the prospects of the budget? The spending agreement had enough support to pass the Pa. Senate despite this opposition from ideologically committed conservatives and liberals; the same might not be true of the State House. That's because Democrats only control the chamber by two votes, and the House Republican caucus is more conservative than the Senate's. It's completely possible that a coalition of liberal Democrats and right-wing Republicans could join together to defeat the bill. That vote should happen shortly, so we'll see what is going to happen either way.

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