An End to Pennsylvania's Months-Long Budget Battle?

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday blasted the latest budget plan to be advanced by Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania's eight-month partisan battle that has left billions of dollars in limbo and schools and universities warning of closures.

Wolf said in an interview on KQV-AM radio that the plan being unveiled by Republicans on Tuesday afternoon is out of balance and leaves a deficit of about $1.6 billion next year. Without a tax increase to fix it, schools could see a $1 billion cut to state aid, Wolf said.

His office also said the Republican plan does not adequately fund schools, although neither Wolf nor his office said whether he would veto the bill.

House and Senate Republicans insisted that the plan does not require a tax increase to balance, and delivers half the public school aid increase, $200 million, that Wolf had sought. Sen. Rich Alloway, R-Franklin, called the plan fair and responsible, but he also acknowledged that lawmakers will have to deal with next year's deficit in the coming months.

Republicans said they will send the main appropriations bill in the $30 billion package to floor votes in the House and Senate on Wednesday, and then onto Wolf's desk. It would increase spending by about 3 percent overall, and increase spending on public school instruction and operations by about 3.5 percent.

Republicans say they hope the plan can end a budget fight that has left billions of dollars for schools, hospitals, prisons and universities in limbo more than eight months into the current fiscal year. Schools are borrowing to stay open and Penn State is threatening to shut down agricultural extension offices. Some school districts are considering closing early for the year in May.

A bipartisan deal collapsed in December, after House GOP leaders pulled support. That $30.8 billion spending plan involved a $1 billion-plus tax increase that Wolf had sought to narrow a long-term deficit and to begin wiping out funding cuts to public schools in 2011.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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