Miller
Miller (submitted)

Local lawmakers offered mixed reactions to the Pennsylvania budget approved this week in a rigidly partisan vote by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Gov. Tom Corbett has not signed the $29.1 billion spending plan.

State Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, compared the state budget to a private household paying off credit cards with more credit cards.

"Rather than responsibly deal with the very large and growing deficit, the majority party, the Republican Party, has put together a budget that continues to hold everything together with Band-Aids and paper clips," Schreiber said.

Under the Republicans' budget plan, spending would increase $723 million, or 2.5 percent, over the current year's approved budget.

Another $220 million would be added to the books of the just-ended fiscal year, rather than the new fiscal year, making the entire package a $943 million increase, or about 3.3 percent.

The big task for Republicans was to address a massive and unexpected collapse in tax collections that tore a gaping $1.7 billion hole into the $29.4 billion budget plan that Corbett proposed in February.

Democrats had proposed making up the shortfall by expanding Medicaid under the 2010 federal health care law, delaying planned tax cuts for businesses and increasing taxes on natural gas extraction and sales of tobacco products.

Instead, Republicans developed a no-new-taxes plan that cuts business taxes and fills the gap by postponing nearly $400 million in Medicaid payments, draining reserves and raiding off-budget programs that support business expansions, volunteer fire companies, improvements to public parks and forests, anti-tobacco efforts and services for the elderly.

Senate Democrats count $2.7 billion in stopgaps, the highest such dollar figure in any year, not counting 2009 to 2011 when Pennsylvania received $6.9 billion in federal recession bailout dollars.

The Democrats: Schreiber said the budget is "more of the same" and does not adequately fund public education.

"We're going to be left next year with an even larger deficit to fill and face," he said.

Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin County, said he "would have liked to have seen greater investment in public education, job creation, health care."

Teplitz said he wanted to see a Marcellus Shale tax, new taxes on tobacco and an expansion of the Medicaid system.

"I don't want to be overly critical, but there were certainly a lot of tools and devices of various types used to get through this year without injecting new revenues," he said. "Once it was decided by the majority that there were not going to be new revenues, they did what they had to do in order to get to a balanced budget. All that does is get us through this budget season. I'm not sure it even gets us through the entire new fiscal year, but it certainly sets up an even bigger hole that we have to fill next year."

The Republicans: On the other side of the aisle, however, state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, said Pennsylvania is "at historic highs for education funding."

"We've never been able to have as much money for basic education as we have in this budget," Gillespie said.

Gillespie said he is also happy the budget allocates money for 350 new state trooper positions.

State Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, said he believes it's "a good budget" with increased spending for public education.

"You can always use more (money for programs), but in light of the budget constraints we're under, without raising taxes, it's the best we could do," he said.

Miller, who chairs the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said the budget adequately funds the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection "to continue to monitor our environmental progress and compliance, including the Marcellus Shale."

"Some people are upset about the leasing of more state lands for gas drilling," he said. "But since it's not going to occur on the state lands — it's just being allowed under them from off site — it'll have minimal impact."

Miller said "about 1,500 acres of forest have been converted to facilitate gas development" between 2008 and 2012.

During that same time, the state added about 33,500 acres to the state forest system, he said.

"You're looking at 22 times the amount of what's been disturbed, we added," Miller said. "We're not destroying the state forest system. We're adding to it constantly."

In a statement, state Sen. Scott Wagner said he "voted for the budget because it did not raise taxes and provided additional funding to the public schools."

"I believe this is the best budget that we can afford," Wagner said. "Next year's budget is going to require some very hard decisions to be made, and I hope that my colleagues are prepared, as I am, to do what is necessary to get Pennsylvania's fiscal house in order."

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.