Pa. Budget Passes House, Set for Senate Vote
The state House easily approved the 2018-19 fiscal year budget by a vote of 188 to 10 today, sending the bill to the Senate for approval as early as Friday.
The $32.7 billion spending plan was about $300 million less than Gov. Tom Wolf asked for, but included a funding boost for education at all levels and prompted praise from both sides of the aisle.
House Speaker Mike Turzai, who joined the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors earlier this month, released a statement after the budget vote asking state-related universities to use the extra funding to keep some expenses flat for students hold the line on some expenses.
“When the (board) meets to plan tuition for the new school year within the next couple of weeks, I will be advocating for no increases in tuition and room and board to help Pennsylvania families better afford college,” he said.
With a 3 percent bump proposed for the state-related universities: Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln, school officials should agree to use the funds to offset those costs, he said.
A few Democrats were critical of some elements of the bill. Rep. Greg Vitali told the Patriot-News there was insufficient environmental funding, and state Rep. Mark Longietti wanted more tourism marketing money.
But all of the bill’s nay votes came from Republicans.
One of the few to criticize the budget during Tuesday morning’s floor debate was Rep. Cris Dush, who later voted against the budget. Dush said he was concerned with a new fund through the Pennsylvania Farm Show property that secures annual budget revenue in exchange for a 29-year financing agreement with a Lancaster-based private equity firm.
Dush said allowing the agreement gives the governor and Department of General Services too much power to create a new funding source.
“While I understand the original language that the governor wanted in here gave much more latitude to the Secretary of the budget, this does at least rein it in and hold it to where each of the chairpersons in all four caucuses have the ability to put a stop to it. That being said, a supplemental appropriations bill should be coming back to the House for consideration,” he said.
Rep. John McGinnis also voted against the budget, saying he believed the budget will end up being more expensive than the 2 percent figure currently being projected and still fails to address the state’s growing pension debt.
“No doubt when the governor, for his first time, signs the budget, there will be smiles all around the room,” he said in a statement. “Incumbents will be smiling because they have avoided a budget impasse a few months out from their re-election campaigns. I doubt, however, that taxpayers have any reason to smile.”
Republican gubernatorial nominee Scott Wagner also weighed in, accusing Gov. Tom Wolf of standing in the way of Republican policies that would make a positive change for many Pennsylvanians.
“This year’s budget is yet another do-nothing budget that fails to address the real challenges facing Pennsylvania,” he said in a statement. “We have to take on big issues – eliminating property taxes, investing in classrooms, trimming wasteful spending and regulations and a real commitment to school safety – unfortunately this budget does none of that.”
Wolf, meanwhile, has spoken positively of the spending plan — even though it went through without some of his requests — calling the budget “responsible and bipartisan.”