Area state House politicians split on budget plan

Local Republican state House members said Thursday they are pleased with a $28.3 billion budget proposal that passed their chamber Wednesday that calls for no tax increases while increasing basic education funding by $100 million and providing for 300 new state police troopers.

The House bill, which passed 108 to 92 down party lines, sets the stage for more discussions among lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett as the spending plan moves to the Senate for review.

“To get to 102 votes, you have to have it full of compromises,” Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said about the bill. “We did the best with what we have.”

Everett said the Senate is expected to work within the $28.3 billion budget, but may add amendments to the bill.

The budget plan does not include provisions for liquor privitization or a transportation budget. Everett said the governor may hold off on passing a final budget until those issues are dealt with.

He admitted that the budget proposal doesn’t satisfy every interest group.

“I wish the economy in Pennsylvania was doing better” to fund more areas, Everett said.

Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro, said he supported the budget proposal because it was balanced and doesn’t call for new taxes or tax increases.

“The state budget gives priority to both education and health and human services programs. We are increasing basic education funding by $100 million that establishes a record high of $10 billion in total state dollars invested in K-12 education,” Baker said.

“As chairman of the Health Committee, I am happy to see $7.2 million restored for health and disease related lines like: diabetes programs, epilepsy support, ALS support services, Tourette syndrome support, poison control centers and lupus support,” Baker said in a news release.

The House budget plan also includes $4 million for county conservation districts, $4 million for violence prevention programs and $3 million for grants to career and technical schools for equipment to expand technical education opportunities.

House Democrats, however, chided the proposal for not doing enough to fund education and for giving too many corporate tax breaks.

Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, said he voted against the bill because he believes it hurts rural communities. Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, he said classroom funding cuts to Lycoming County schools are unfair compared to more populated suburban school districts that received proportionally less in cuts.

“This is not equity. This is institutionalizing poverty in rural communities,” he said.

Mirabito also called for the expansion of Medicaid in Pennsylvania, which the governor has not yet acted upon.

“To address the urgent need for health care in rural Pennsylvania, we need a budget that deals with the expansion of Medicaid,” he said.

In addition, Mirabito said the budget does not include funding to ensure a state police helicopter unit based in Lycoming County. The state police aviation unit was moved from the Williamsport Regional Airport to a location in Hazleton in January 2012.

“We should restore funding and require the Pennsylvania State Police to post an aviation unit in Montoursville,” Mirabito said.

Rep. Michael K. Hanna Sr., D-Lock Haven, said the House spending plan gives too much away to big business.

“I voted against it mainly because of its misplaced priorities with corporate tax breaks and relief,” he said. “At the same time, it continues to punish public education.”

Hanna said that funding for basic education has suffered billions of dollars in cuts during the past several years.

“This budget makes those cuts permanent,” he said.