GOV. CORBETT sounded open on Tuesday to spending more on the state budget that starts July 1 than the $27.1 billion he first proposed in February.

But Corbett dismissed the concerns of those protesting outside the Prince Music Theater, where he had his annual "conversation" with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, saying that the state cannot attract the jobs they clamor for if it increases business taxes.

The state Senate last week approved an alternative $27.7 billion budget that restores some of the cuts Corbett proposed for public schools, state universities and public-welfare programs. The Senate justified the budget by noting a three-month uptick in the revenue collected by the state.

"How many of you think the economy is about to take off?" Corbett asked about 200 people at the chamber event.

Nobody raised his hand as Corbett added that he finds it "a little risky" to spend more based on just three months of better-than-projected state revenue.

Corbett called his budget proposal "the floor" and the Senate budget "the ceiling," adding that he will negotiate from there.

Corbett twice dodged when moderator Marty Moss-Coane, host of "Radio Times" on WHYY, asked about the estimated $500 million per year in business taxes the state loses each year to the "Delaware loophole" when corporations list that state as their headquarters while operating here. Corbett said he wanted to see what happens with pending legislation to close the loophole.

That was a key complaint with the more than 100 protesters who choked the event entrance at the Prince Music Theater, at one point laying a red carpet over the bodies of six activists in a mock welcome for Corbett.

"They want good jobs," Corbett said of the protesters. "But they want to tax the corporations. If you ask the business people here, that's incongruous."

Corbett turned peevish twice with Moss-Coane, once when she asked if his budget approach was based in ideology and then when she suggested he had "targeted" state schools for cuts.

"Is it ideology to say we shouldn't spend more money than we have?" Corbett asked, later adding: "To me, 'targeted' means I'm picking on them over everybody else. Do I want to do that? Absolutely not."

Moss-Coane noted near the end of the hour-long conversation that Corbett could hear demonstrators beating drums and chanting slogans outside. What would he say to them, she asked.

"I understand that you're upset because we've had to put the state on a diet, for want of a better description," Corbett said. "I haven't met anybody who likes to go on diets. It is not easy. It is not what we want to do." n

Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or email him at brennac@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN and read his blog, PhillyClout.com.