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Politics & Government

Senate Dems Offer Their Own Budget Proposal

As lawmakers in the state House teed up the legislative vehicle for a state budget Monday morning, Senate Democrats offered their view on what the final spending plan should look like.

The Senate Democrats' plan amounts to about $28.4 billion — roughly $56 million above what the governor proposed. It depends on the so-called modernization of the state's liquor system, keeping a business tax the governor wants to eliminate, and the state's participation in a federally authorized expansion of the Medicaid program.

The proposal would boost funding for education by about $212 million and put money into tax credit programs to spur job creation and economic development in the state's most depressed regions.

"The difference between what our caucus is putting out today and what you've seen from the Republicans is really the difference between a budget based on maths and a budget based on myths," said Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin), who said his caucus's plan takes a more realistic look at the Liquor Control Board as an asset to the commonwealth that is most advantageous when profits can be raised with things like longer store hours and "competitive pricing."

But if the plan isn't based on myths, it's at least based on some pretty big hypothetical infusions of cash.

Take Medicaid, for example. Senate Democrats presume $154 million in new funding with the expansion. The Corbett administration has so far opposed such a move and has said the commonwealth wouldn't be ready for the expansion in 2014, so any savings couldn't be baked into next year's budget.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said his caucus doesn't agree.

"We believe there's no question that the Department of Public Welfare has ability to get the program up and running January 1 of 2014 when it's implemented," Costa said. "What we hear from the administration are nothing but roadblocks and hurdles that they keep throwing out there."

The other pillar holding up the Senate Democrats' different spending priorities would be a one-year freeze in the phase-out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax. Gov. Corbett was asked last week if he would consider such a move. He demurred.

The Senate Democrats' plan, like a proposal offered by House GOP leadership last week, does not include savings based on the pension system overhaul plan proposed by the Corbett administration.

Shortly after the budget announcement, the bill that will serve as the legislative vehicle for the state budget was cleared on a party-line vote by the House Appropriations Committee. It's expected to be voted on by the full House next week.