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Local lawmakers approve of House budget plan

State House Republicans from the area predict next year’s budget will soon be passed, unlike most recent years when putting together a spending plan became a contentious issue.

“The talk down here (Harrisburg) is that both houses and the governor are in agreement,” state Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, said. “There may be a few glitches.”

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, said, “The Senate and governor are on board with what we (House) passed.”

The Senate is expected to take up the budget today following House approval of a $34 billion budget Tuesday.

The budget deadline is June 30.

Both Wheeland and Everett voted in favor of the spending plan.

Democrats reportedly were pushing for a package that included an increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $12 an hour, which the House version did not include.

Wheeland said he felt a minimum wage issue should be considered separately from the budget.

He said, however, he doubts he would have voted against the budget if a minimum wage increase had been included.

For his part, Everett said he likely would have considered the amount of the minimum wage hike.

He said he was glad to see omitted from the House budget a severance tax on the natural gas industry and a provision for requiring municipalities without their own police to pay fees for state police coverage.

“So you take those out of the equation, it made things much easier for me,” he said.

Wheeland and Everett agreed that healthy tax revenues made working through the budget a smoother process this year.

Still, Wheeland said lawmakers cannot become complacent as the state will not always be in the same strong economic position it now finds itself.

“It’s very easy for elected officials to spend money. It’s more difficult to restrain themselves,” he said.

He said he had little problem with the House budget version reflecting a nearly 2 percent overall spending increase from the previous year.

“As long as it stays below the inflation factor,” he said.

Wheeland said he supports the additional funding for public education as well as that for Pennsylvania College of Technology.

“I supported the fact there is no tax increase or fee increase,” he added.

Everett said the budget includes provisions for career and technical education.

For example, Penn College will get an additional $4 million. Penn State University and its agricultural extension programs will receive 2 percent bumps in funding after seeing no increases in recent years.

There is also, he noted, a 20 percent increase in funding for battling Lyme disease.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, was unavailable for comment for this story.

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