A triumphant Gov. Corbett signed the new state budget with
minutes to spare before the deadline late Saturday, winning bipartisan support
for his pro-jobs agenda, holding the line on taxes, and restoring hundreds of
millions in education funding that he had targeted for elimination just months
Flanked by House GOP lawmakers, Corbett put his pen to the first of a series of bills authorizing the $27.65 billion spending plan at 11:45 p.m., just shy of the start of the new fiscal year, while debate still raged in the Senate over a last-minute addition to the fiscal code, an essential budget element.
That addition: a moratorium on drilling that applies only to sections of Southeastern Pennsylvania, a measure kept secret almost until it was time to vote on it.
But even that eleventh-hour dust-up on the Senate floor was not enough to keep Corbett from signing an on-time state budget.
"Our taxpayers deserve government that works for them," the governor said. "Today we reaffirm our commitment to job growth, to education, to the needy, and to the taxpayers."
Corbett's victories were not insignificant: $300 million in business-tax cuts. Securing a landmark no-cap tax-credit deal for Shell Oil to build a natural gas-based petrochemical plant in southwestern Pennsylvania. Launching a pilot program to change the way social services are funded in the counties. And expanding a program that has come to be known in the Capitol as "vouchers-lite," a new version of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC).
The latter, in particular, was a significant win for Corbett, who has been trying since taking office to get legislative approval for publicly funded school vouchers for poor students to attend private, parochial, or other public schools. The measure approved by lawmakers as part of the budget this weekend is less ambitious than traditional vouchers, but it still targets money to lower-income students by giving tax credits to businesses that help pay for scholarships.
The older version of the EITC was expanded from $75 million to $100 million for businesses that provide scholarship aid to low- to middle-income private school students. The law creates a new $50 million pot of money that would target scholarship aid to pupils in the worst-performing schools.
One of the trade-offs was steep rollbacks in programs that serve the poor and disabled. County services such as drug and alcohol counseling took a 10 percent hit, and the cash assistance program, now totaling $150 million, which has provided bare- bones aid to the disabled since the Depression, was eliminated.
Corbett, who gave the 70,000 Pennsylvania residents receiving the aid and social service providers a one-month reprieve just days before the program's July 1 expiration date, said he would try to find alternative sources of help, including accessing federal or other state programs.
But advocates for the poor said they don't believe there is any other place to turn in what is considered a "last-resort" option for many, including domestic violence victims and those transitioning to federal long-term disability insurance.
"This is their sole source of income," said Michael Froehlich, a staff attorney for Community Legal Services. "The capacity is not there to deal with
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