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GOP lawmakers to send Wolf their $30.1B budget by Tuesday

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Brad Bumsted | Trib Total Media
House Majority Leader Dave Reed of Indiana County speaks to reporters as Republican legislative leaders introduce their budget proposal for 2015-16 on June 26, 2015.
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Brad Bumsted | Trib Total Media
House Speaker Mike Turzai of Marshall talks about the Republican budget plan introduced Friday for fiscal year 2015-16 on June 26, 2015.
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Brad Bumsted | Trib Total Media
Sen. Pat Browne of Allentown, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, talks about the Republican budget plan for fiscal year 2015-16.

HARRISBURG — A House-Senate budget of $30.2 billion crafted by Republicans meets the mandate voters gave in November to GOP majorities in both chambers by “reining in spending and holding the line on taxes,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Friday.

But Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said that it isn’t a balanced budget and he’ll veto it if it arrives on his desk in its current form.

The full House is expected Saturday to approve the budget that increases overall spending by 3.6 percent and boosts basic education spending by $100 million. Voting along party lines by a 21-15 margin, the House Appropriations Committee on Friday night approved the budget to tee it up for consideration by the full chamber.

With a state spending plan due by midnight Tuesday, the Senate will begin voting Sunday night and send the Republican-crafted budget to Wolf by Tuesday, said Corman of Centre County.

“The only person able to shut down the government of Pennsylvania sits in the governor’s office,” said House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana.

Wolf told reporters he will veto it but do so with the least disruption possible. He would not say whether he would veto the entire budget or use his line-item veto to “blue-line” specific expenditures.

One spending category that funds far less than Wolf wants is basic education. He would spend four times as much, or $400 million.

Wolf said it’s better to have a “good budget” than be “preoccupied,” as some are, with an on-time budget. But Wolf said he will act as quickly as possible so negotiations with Republicans can resume.

“We have a constitutional responsibility to get an on-time budget to our governor,” said House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County. Adolph said his constituents overwhelmingly told him they oppose the “massive tax increase” Wolf wants to boost spending by 16 percent.

The budget increases spending by 3 percent for state-related universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, Adolph said.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, said Republican leadership has made it really easy for Democrats to vote against “this sham budget proposal. It does not meet the real needs of Pennsylvania.”

Rep. Joe Markosek of Monroeville, ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said his constituents care about education and property tax relief. Under the House GOP budget, the education spending is too little and there’s no tax-shifting proposal to cut property taxes as Wolf proposed, Markosek said. “It’s more of the same old approach we saw for the last four years,” he said.

The proposed budget “doesn’t fund our public schools and doesn’t make the oil and gas companies pay their fair share,” said Wolf’s spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan.

Wolf wants a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas extraction from shale drilling to fund education. He wants $400 million for basic education and $100 million for special education.

The Republican budget includes no shale gas-tax increase, Corman said. New GOP members of the Senate from Western Pennsylvania were steadfastly opposed, he said.

Separately, the House and Senate will consider bills to reduce the costs of public pensions and a separate measure to sell the state liquor stores.

The liquor bill would bring in $220 million annually. It includes leasing the state’s wholesale system of wine and liquor for 10 years, GOP officials said. It would phase out the state-owned liquor stores. Wolf opposes selling the state stores.

The plan is expected to allow beer distributors to sell wine and liquor, and allow those with restaurant licenses, including some grocery stores with eateries, to sell wine and liquor — as well as beer, which they can sell now.

Without action on pensions, the state’s costs would increase from $3.1 billion to $3.7 billion, said House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall. That’s a huge cost-driver in the budget that must be addressed, he said.

Pointing to large state tax increases in 1991 and 2003, Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Browne of Allentown said the GOP budget does not include a tax hike.

Republicans said Wolf’s budget increases taxes $4.6 billion. Though it would raise the sales and income taxes, Wolf’s plan would shift a significant share of that revenue to cutting property taxes. But even with a cut, it represents an increase for every class of taxpayers, the Independent Fiscal Office said in April.

“I don’t see how we get home (for the summer) without property tax relief,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

Markosek said he believes Senate Republicans will want in the end to approve a plan to cut property taxes. The House has passed a tax-shifting plan.

Wolf said he will veto the plan as quickly as he can to resume negotiations with Republicans.

The Republicans controlling both chambers face ”considerable pressure to pass a budget on time,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College. Late budgets were a frequent GOP complaint when Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell held office. This budget must “reflect Republican priorities” for negotiating with the administration, Madonna said.

Madonna believes a line-item veto by Wolf is more likely than a full veto. “An entire veto is virtually unheard of” on budget bills, he said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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