The Pennsylvania General Assembly arguably did its job Monday, passing a $29.1 billion budget with the approval of both houses before the mandated midnight deadline. But Gov. Tom Corbett isn’t ready to make the budget law quite yet.
PennLive reports Corbett left his office at 12:30 a.m. without signing the bill, but trying to “tamp down” any sense that chaos was about to ensue.
“There was not an agreed-to budget (with legislative leaders) necessarily, on the details,” Corbett explained. “So we’ll get a chance to take a look at it and we’ll make our decisions.”
But the budget is clearly not all that Corbett is going to be taking a look at.
The decision not to sign the spending plan immediately is also part of a calculated gamble designed to give the governor at least another day — or maybe 10 — to press for positive action on a plan to reduce Pennsylvania’s long-term pension costs.
Corbett’s move Monday night comes after leaders of the House and Senate Republican majorities couldn’t drum up enough support to pass pension legislation backed by Corbett.
That legislation would reduce future public employee pension benefits to bring a savings of more than $10 billion over 30 years.
But Democrats were united in opposition, and Republicans opposed it. Instead, the Senate passed a bill that would shift state lawmakers, judges, the governor and four other elected executive branch officials into a 401(k)-style system. It’s expected to save $690 million over 38 years.
Increases spending by $723 million, or 2.5 percent, to $29.1 billion, over the current year's approved budget. Counting an additional $220 million that it will add to the books of the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ended Monday, the entire package is a $943 million increase, or about 3.3 percent.
Relies on more than $700 million from off-budget lottery sales, legal settlement money paid by tobacco companies, and revenue from oil and gas drilling on state lands.
No increase in aid to public schools for basic instructional and operational costs.
The Pittsburg Tribune-Review notes one other item not in the budget: No gas fracking tax for the Marcellus Shale.
Proponents of a state severance tax on natural gas extraction may not be able to offer amendments to enact one because the General Assembly does not plan to bring up a budget companion bill that sets tax rates, legislative leaders said.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, said the no-new-revenue agreement between Republican leaders and Corbett means there is no need for a so-called tax code because tax rates won't change. A House Republican spokesman offered the same explanation.
One bit of good news for Philly schools: The Senate approved letting Philly raise local cigarette taxes to fund city schools. There are no plans to bring the legislation up in the House however.