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Corbett Signs Pa. Budget As Bigger Agenda Stalls

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(The state capitol in Harrisburg.  File photo)

(The state capitol in Harrisburg. File photo)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The main Pennsylvania state budget bill became law with Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature on Sunday night, as he acknowledged that the wider agenda he had sought with it of overhauling public employee pension systems, privatizing wine and liquor sales and increasing transportation funding has stalled until the fall.

Still, Corbett did not express disappointment, and instead sought to highlight the progress that had happened in the Legislature.

“I have to thank the people for what they’ve done and I certainly encourage them when they return in the fall,” Corbett told reporters shortly after the signing the bill at 10:15 p.m. “Let’s get it done.”

A 111-92 House vote along party lines on the budget bill followed the more bipartisan Senate approval of the $28.4 billion spending plan, a 2.6 percent increase over the 2012-13 budget approved last year.

The budget plan would increase spending by $719 million, or 2.6 percent, over the current year, largely for additional health care for the poor, social services, public employee pensions, prisons and public schools. It also cuts business taxes by about $300 million.

The spending bill is $65 million less than what Corbett proposed in February, and assumes retirement and pension costs will be substantially lower than Corbett has projected. Democrats have sought, unsuccessfully, to free up even more money for schools and other programs by delaying business tax cuts and counting on savings by approving a federally funded expansion of Medicaid eligibility.

Corbett outlined a three-part agenda in January and February — increased transportation funding, privatized wine and liquor sales and changes in public employee pension systems. But his pensions proposal made little headway in the state Legislature and a showdown between the House and Senate sank efforts on liquor and transportation legislation before lawmakers’ summer break.

In a statement Sunday evening, Corbett asked the Senate and the House to immediately send the Senate’s wine and liquor bill to his desk.

However, the House Republican majority has not been able to muster enough votes to pass an approximately $2 billion transportation bill it wrote, in large part because it involves an increase in a wholesale fuel tax, and House Democrats have not been supportive of it because they see it as inadequate, particularly for mass transit systems.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s Republican majority has refused to approve a private wine and liquor sales bill without a commitment from House GOP leaders to send it to Corbett’s desk unchanged and approve the Senate’s biggest priority, a massive transportation funding bill.

“Simply to send the (liquor) bill to the House with no assurance that it would go the governor’s desk seems like a meaningless exercise,” Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said Sunday evening. “The other (concern) is the House does have a transportation bill that was sent to them that 45 members of the Senate are very concerned about and we’d like to see action on that bill.”

In another sign of trouble, Pileggi said the House Republican transportation bill — which is approximately $500 million less per year than a plan that passed the Senate in early June by a 45-5 vote — lacked support in the Senate.

“We don’t think it’s sufficient revenue,” Pileggi said. “We think the bare minimum is what was in” the Senate plan.

The Senate also approved legislation to potentially expand Medicaid eligibility to hundreds of thousands of adult Pennsylvanians under the 2010 federal health care law. With staunch opposition among House Republicans, the issue could become a sticking point as lawmakers consider the other budget-related bills.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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