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House GOP offers leaner Pa. budget; Dem leader says it 'cuts into bone'

HARRISBURG  - Recommending government-wide cuts, House GOP leaders Monday unveiled a budget that a top Democrat said "cuts into the bone" of what he described as Gov. Wolf's already austere spending plan.

The Republicans called for spending $31.5 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1, compared with the Democratic governor's $32.3 billion.

The Republican plan would include trims to prison and human-service agencies.

The legislation leaves intact the governor's proposed increases to the main K-12 education line and for special education, while calling for a smaller increase to early childhood education than Wolf suggested.

House GOP leaders said they planned to vote the bill out of the House on Tuesday, sending it to the Senate.

"Ideally we would love for this bill to go directly to the Senate, over to the governor's desk, get  signed, and we could move on with our lives," said House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana).

"We're realistic. We know this is the beginning, not the end, of the negotiating process. We think we provided some basic parameters that represent a short-term and long-term sustainable budget plan, and we're hopeful that they recognize that."

The budget typically is forged during high-pressure negotiations as the state approaches the end of the fiscal year. Wolf's first budget was not resolved for nearly nine months after the deadline.

The Appropriations Committee approved the Republican bill Monday over the opposition of Democratic members.

The highest-ranked Democrat on the committee, Rep. Joe Markosek of Allegheny County, said the Republican budget was a step in the wrong direction.

"It cuts into the bone that many of us agree was already bare," he said.

Committee Chairman Stan Saylor (R., York) said the GOP plan is a "responsible and sustainable" budget that would not rely on tax increases.

In a statement, Wolf said he was encouraged that the proposal would reduce the size of government while increasing education funding. But he said he was concerned about lack of investment in early-childhood education, a drug that treats opioid overdoses, and programs to help manufacturing.

Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre), said  Senate Republicans look forward to reviewing the House plan.

In the $32 billion proposal he unveiled in February, Wolf touted what he claimed were historic cuts in the state bureaucracy.

One of the cornerstones is a plan to merge four health-related departments and agencies into a single Health and Human Services Department.