The state House Appropriations Committee this afternoon defeated a Senate budget proposal that would have stripped millions from many programs - including education and health care - in an effort to close the budget gap without raising taxes.
After nearly two hours of debate the committee voted 20-14 along party lines to kill the Senate Republicans' $27.3 billion budget counterproposal to Gov. Rendell's spending plan.
Republicans assailed the committee vote as "gamesmanship," while Democrats defended their decision to consider and vote on the GOP bill as an example of the chamber's new era of transparency.
Rep. Mario Civera (R., Delaware), the ranking Republican on the committee, had strong words for Committee Chairman Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) that were echoed by other Republicans who argued for moving the bill to the House floor to try reach an agreement ahead of the end-of-the-fiscal-year deadline of June 30.
"What are we doing here?" said an exasperated Civera. "You know is not going to pass committee. . . . What are you prepared to do to start the budget process?"
But Evans said he viewed the debate as a step in the process that began with Rendell's unveiling of his $29 billion budget proposal in February. He defended his handling of the process so far, noting he has held 50 committee budget hearings around the state, more than any previous appropriations chairman in his 30 years in the legislature.
He also said he could not support forwarding a budget proposal that did not contain any of the governor's recommendations for plugging the budget hole, including dipping into the Rainy Day Fund and a tax increase on cigarettes and new taxes on smokeless tobacco and natural gas reserves.
The GOP's $27.3 billion plan is nearly 6 percent less than that proposed by Rendell in February and would use $2.7 billion in federal stimulus funds to help compensate for some of the cuts. At the time it passed the Senate along party lines last month, the bill offered a balanced spending plan based on a deficit of around $2.9 billion. The latest projections, however, put the deficit at $3.2 billion.
Erik Arneson, a spokesman for the Senate Republican caucus, which remains opposed to any tax increases, said with 22 days until the end of the fiscal year, time is running out for the House and the governor to send them an alternative proposal.