Pa. budget talks continue

    The last three weeks have been dominated by budget hearings in Harrisburg. In the final session, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby stuck to his guns, defending Gov. Tom Corbett’s no-tax spending plan during an hours-long House Appropriations Committee hearing.

    The panel’s top Democrat, Joe Markosek, pressed Zogby on whether the proposed billion dollars in education cuts would lead to local property tax hikes.

    “Well, the budget secretary doesn’t have the ability to guarantee spending at a local level, but I would respectfully take issue with the notion, Mr. Chairman, that this budget means a tax increase for anyone at the local level,” said Zogby.

    Corbett is urging public school employees to keep costs down by accepting a one-year pay freeze.

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    Another Democrat, Greg Vitali, pushed Zogby on the wisdom of bridging the $4.2 billion deficit entirely through cuts.

    “What is the problem with raising revenues and putting it in the General Fund? That helps all Pennsylvanians. What’s the problem with putting money in the General Fund? It seems like it’s a great place to put it,” Vitali argued, making the rare case for a tax increase.

    “We could talk about this until the cows come home,” responded Zogby. “The governor’s just not interested in raising taxes. End of story.”

    Republican Doug Reichley asked Zogby to explain a proposed 46 percent increase for the lieutenant governor’s office. The current budget spends just under $500,000 on the lieutenant governor’s office, and Corbett wants to nearly double the figure, to $867,000.

    Zogby conceded the line item was an anomaly, explaining the office itself didn’t spend much money in 2009 and 2010, when Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati served as lieutenant governor after Catherine Baker Knoll’s death. “You had Sen. Scarnati acting at the lieutenant governor,” he said. “He had a Senate staff to rely on, so did not need to have a full complement, in terms of a lieutenant governor staff.”

    Corbett’s $867,000 request is about $200,000 below the office’s appropriation for 2008-2009, which became law four months before Knoll died. With $500,000 for the Board of Pardons, which Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley heads, the office’s total request comes in around $1.4 million.

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