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Lawmakers get first look at $32B compromise spending plan

Written by Marc Levy/Associated Press | Jun 29, 2017 2:27 PM

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(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania lawmakers got their first look Thursday at a $32 billion budget package as they plowed through the second-to-last day of state government's fiscal year without a plan to pay for it or handle the state's biggest cash shortfall since the recession.

Preliminary votes on the package were possible late Thursday night in the Senate Appropriations Committee, with floor votes planned in both chambers on Friday.

Lawmakers expected to return to the Capitol next week to figure out how to raise $2 billion-plus to cover a two-year projected shortfall, with anti-tax Republican leaders looking to borrow, expand casino-style gambling offerings or sell more private-sector liquor licenses.

"Everybody better bring their notepad and pencils and tell me what they're for," said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson. "I'm tired of hearing about what everybody's opposed to. Tell me what you're for."

The spending figure in the just-unveiled budget package falls between what Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf sought in his February proposal and what the House passed in April, strictly with Republican support.

It authorizes an approximately $600 million increase in spending over last year's approved budget of $31.5 billion, or almost 2 percent, including money being added to the just-ending fiscal year's books.

According to Senate officials, new spending includes a $100 million boost Wolf sought for public school instruction and operations, or almost 2 percent more. Hundreds of millions more are going to pension obligations and $195 million, or 13 percent more, sought by Wolf will go to improve services for adults who have an intellectual disability or autism, they said.

Meanwhile, the package wipes out House cuts of roughly $50 million to county-run programs and another $50 million cut sought by Wolf to school transportation aid. It also restores a $30 million grant to the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school, which Wolf sought to eliminate, Senate officials said.

To curb spending, the plan asks Wolf's administration to find savings in the state's $30 billion Medicaid program. It does not say how, and Republican lawmakers say it could include cutting reimbursements to insurers that run much of the program or asking the federal government for waivers to seek cost-sharing from enrollees.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania lawmakers are getting a first look at a $32 billion budget package as they plow through the second-to-last day of state government's fiscal year without a plan to pay for it.

Preliminary votes on the package were possible late Thursday night, while the House and Senate GOP majorities struggle with the state's biggest cash shortfall since the recession.

The spending figure falls between what Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf sought and what House Republicans passed.

It authorizes an approximately $600 million increase in spending, including a $100 million boost Wolf sought for public schools, or almost 2 percent. It demands savings in Pennsylvania's $30 billion Medicaid program and maintains $195 million, or 13 percent more, sought by Wolf to improve services for adults who have an intellectual disability or autism.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania lawmakers are plowing through the second-to-last day of state government's fiscal year, as top Republicans struggle to deal with the state's biggest cash shortfall since the recession.

Preliminary votes were possible late Thursday night on a yet-to-be-revealed Senate GOP spending plan of nearly $32 billion, while House and Senate Republican majority leaders reveal little about their closed-door negotiations.

The relatively austere spending plan could mean belt-tightening or cuts across programs and agencies, while talks over how to find $2-plus billion in cash to prop up spending will drag into July.

Anti-tax Republican leaders are looking to borrowing and more casino-style gambling and private-sector liquor licenses for money, although disagreements remain, in particular over whether to legalize slot machine-style terminals in thousands of bars and truck stops.

An earlier story appears below.

(HARRISBURG) -- Pennsylvania lawmakers are plowing through the second-to-last day of state government's fiscal year, as top Republicans struggle to deal with the state's biggest cash shortfall since the recession.

Preliminary votes were possible Thursday on a yet-to-be-revealed Senate GOP spending plan of approximately $32 billion, while House and Senate Republican majority leaders reveal little about their closed-door negotiations as they try to sort out disagreements.

Talks over how to find $2-plus billion in cash to prop up spending appear likely to drag into July.

A relatively austere spending plan could mean belt-tightening or cuts across programs and agencies, while anti-tax Republicans look to more casino-style gambling and borrowing for money.

Meanwhile, several southeastern Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers are breaking with leadership and proposing a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production.

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