Pa. state Senate votes to send $34 billion budget to Gov. Tom Wolf
The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)
The Pennsylvania state Senate voted on Thursday to approve a $34 billion budget that includes no new taxes and a $160 million increase in basic education spending.
The spending bill now goes to Gov. Tom Wolf, who has indicated he will sign it. The measure represents a 1.8 percent increase in spending from the current fiscal year.
The final budget vote came one day after the Senate erupted into chaos over the repeal of Pennsylvania’s General Assistance program, which provides small cash benefits to 11,000 adults.
That rancor was absent from the Senate floor on Thursday, when the chamber voted 42-8 after temperate debate to send the budget bill to Wolf’s desk. The state House voted 140-62 to approve the plan on Tuesday.
All eight dissenting votes came from Democratic senators, who said the spending plan did not do enough to address the needs of working people and families across the state.
“This is a budget that just keeps pace with the tough issues,” Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, said. “This is not a budget that drives us to be innovative or creative.”
Pennsylvania generated a more than $900 million surplus this year, thanks to higher-than-expected corporate tax revenue.
Democrats said part of that surplus could be used to repair aging public school buildings or preserve the General Assistance program.
But Republican leaders who brokered the budget with Wolf successfully lobbied to rein in spending and make a $250 million deposit into the rainy day fund for emergency spending.
Republicans pointed to increases for domestic violence services, rape crisis shelters, and job training programs as highlights of this year’s spending plan.
After voting on the General Fund budget, the Senate also passed a slate of code bills — budget-enabling legislation that governs everything from agriculture to education.
All the code bills passed by wide margins, save for one that governs schools.
That bill includes a $25 million increase to the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, which funds private and parochial school scholarships, and lowers the compulsory school age from eight to six. The measure drew bipartisan dissent before passing 37-13.
The Senate also passed the tax code bill, which provides the revenue to pay for the budget, 44-6.
As of 5 p.m., the House had passed the fiscal code bill, 125-74. Environmental groups, pointing to provisions within the bill to expand a state grant program for natural gas utility lines and a measure to preempt local single use plastic bans, came out strongly against the measure.
Leadership in both chambers expects to finish the entire budget Thursday evening or Friday.
Capital-Star reporter Stephen Caruso contributed reporting.
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