Pa. House panel advances state budget

    The Pennsylvania House is expected to vote on a state budget as early as Thursday.

    A key House committee on Wednesday amended and voted on a negotiated $27.7 billion spending plan.

    The meeting offered a preview of what’s likely to be a lengthy floor debate in the full chamber.

    Rep. Glen Grell lauds the decision to keep funding level for state-related and state system universities, after they dealt with 18 and 19 percent cuts, respectively, last year.

    “The budget may not be a perfect budget, but I’ve been here eight years and I haven’t seen any budget that’s perfect,” said Grell, R-Cumberland.

    Republicans are also touting the restoration of $100 million for grants that help public school districts pay for early education programs.

    But Democrats say more could have been done to restore them to the $254 million level of two years ago.

    They also criticized a plan still in progress to create a multimillion-dollar tax credit to attract oil and gas investment in the form of an ethane cracker plant in western Pennsylvania.

    The tax break comes with strings attached, says Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver.

    “The only way they will even receive a credit in 2017 is if they build a petrochemical plant here, infuse $3 billion to $6 billion of private money into our economy,” he said.

    Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing to finalize a proposal for funding seven human services programs run by the counties.

    Gov. Tom Corbett wants to use a single funding stream for them, so that counties would be able to fund the programs according to their needs.

    Some top Republicans are trying to broker a pilot program for such an approach, instead of implementing the new method for all counties at once.

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