HARRISBURG - Led by Democrats eager to show they are serious about delivering a state budget on time, the House yesterday approved a $29 billion state budget bill and sent it to the Senate, where it is certain to face revisions by Republicans eager to rein in spending.
The bill largely mirrors the budget that Gov. Rendell presented last month. It would boost spending about 4 percent, even though Republicans warn that Pennsylvania's lagging tax collections threaten to tilt the plan out of balance by hundreds of millions of dollars.
The House approved H.B. 2279, 107-89, with support from every Democrat who voted and five Republicans.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R., Centre) said a continued slide in tax collections this year could rip a hole as large as $700 million in the House Democratic plan.
"I don't think anything that happened today moves the process forward," Corman said. "You've got to be responsible."
Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), the House Appropriations Committee chairman, called the budget a frugal, no-tax-increase bill that cuts back spending in most areas while packing a big increase for what he called the state's most important investment - public schools.
"To me, that's an investment worth fighting for," Evans said in an interview.
Much of the rest of the approximately $1.1 billion spending increase is driven by human-service programs and the expanding prison population.
House Republican leaders said the bill does not recognize the state's weak tax collections, the looming public pension crisis, and disappearing federal budget aid that could deliver a multibillion-dollar fiscal wallop within two years. But the GOP did not propose amendments or make lengthy speeches in an effort to force changes.
The House did not pass an accompanying revenue bill that is legally necessary each year to pay for the spending. It also did not take up various tax increases proposed by Rendell to address the anticipated fiscal cliff in 2012.
No increase in any broad-based tax is necessary to fund the spending plan for the 2010-11 fiscal year, Democrats insist. The plan would rely on about $3 billion in federal budget aid that is designed to help states through the recession, including some that Congress has not yet approved. The plan also relies on casino gambling and an expansion of natural gas drilling on public lands.
Last year, a budget compromise did not happen until Oct. 9, 101 days late.
For Pennsylvania House roll call votes, go to http://go.philly.com/pahousevote.