Restoring $500 million to the proposed state budget, the Pennsylvania State Senate approved a $27.6 billion state budget in a 39-8 vote Wednesday.
The Republican-penned bill restored funding to basic and higher education, human services programs, hospitals, nursing homes and services for individuals with disabilities—winning the approval of many Democrats, as well.
In news releases from Democrats and Republicans alike, lawmakers called the vote a positive first step in the budget process and an attempt to provide Pennsylvanians services that they felt Gov. Tom Corbett's budget initially shortchanged.
"Senate Bill 1466 will provide substantial restorations to certain areas of the Governor's proposed budget that reflect the fiscal realities that we have today. Increased revenues over the past few months allowed us to alter what the Governor had initially proposed back in February, including significant restorations to higher education, basic education, early childhood funding, and social service funding," said bill sponsor state Sen. Jake Corman (R-34).
Roxborough state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-7), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was optimistic about the bill, but said more needed to be done.
“I am pleased that my Republican colleagues in the Senate have heard our message and included many of our budget priorities in this proposal. This is the first step of many in the budget process and this spending plan moves us forward in crafting a budget plan that significantly reflects the priorities of Pennsylvanians,” he said.
Hughes voted for the bill, while Roxborough's other lawmaker, state Sen. Shirely Kitchen (D-3), voted against it.
The Senate Majority Leader, Delaware County Republican state Sen. Dominic Pileggi, (R-9) discussed the bill.
"The focus of the spending plan contained in Senate Bill 1466 is using the additional revenues not to increase funding for programs, but to maintain spending at the current level and to avoid a reduction in funding to critical programs," he said about his "Yes" vote.
The governor on Tuesday defended his original budget and stood up for what he called his austere plan.
"We're going to need that money" to cover future spiraling increases in state pension costs, debt service and other fixed expenses, the Republican said, according to the York Daily Record.
CBSPhilly.com reported that the Senate bill was about as far as he was willing go.
The bill increases funding by 1.9 percent, and also:
- Fully reverses cuts to state colleges and universities;
- Adds $132 million for basic education; and
- Restores $84 million to human services programs.
Other elements from Corbett's budget, like the governor's proposal to eliminate a $150 million temporary cash-assistance or maintaining a $275 million business-tax cut, remained.
Democratic Minority Whip Anthony Hardy Williams (D-8) voted against the bill.
“I hope, really hope, that this is the start of budget negotiations, not the finish. I hope the dialogue can continue. Because right now, for too many people—and I don’t care where you live, if you’re in West Philadelphia or Westmoreland County—Pennsylvania is not a kind place. That’s what this budget, as of today, says," he said.
The House will now take up the Senate bill.