Budget bill passes, but Philly schools in limbo

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 8, 2014 at 8:56 pm •  Published: July 8, 2014
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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — State senators finished Tuesday what Republican majority leaders viewed as the remaining pieces of budget-related legislation, although Democrats went away frustrated and a controversial bill remained undone eight days after the beginning of the new fiscal year.

The Senate narrowly passed a key budget-related bill, 26-22, that is a companion to the $29.1 billion spending plan that is sitting on Gov. Tom Corbett's desk.

Corbett, a Republican, has until Friday night ends to sign or veto the main budget bill before it becomes law on its own. He has expressed disappointment that public pension legislation he had sought remained stalled in the Legislature and he has not said what he will do with the budget legislation while he waited out a fight between leaders of the House and Senate Republican majorities.

Every Democrat has opposed the Republicans' budget bills, and one, Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, took to the floor of the Senate to skewer the companion bill as a "clear violation of the public trust."

The 112-page bill, negotiated behind closed doors by Republicans, guides the distribution of billions of dollars for public schools and hospitals, but also orders up loosely related government functions, such as changing how oil and gas drilling is regulated in the state, establishing a new community college in northwestern Pennsylvania and allowing another $10 fee on certain state court filings.

Other provisions reduce the license fee that bar owners must pay to operate forms of gambling and cement the case for a new round of leasing publicly owned lands for natural gas drilling.

The bill, Ferlo said, was written and passed in ways that violate constitutional provisions designed to fight corruption and ensure transparency.

"We should follow the letter of the law that our constitution provides," Ferlo said. "Many of the provisions of House Bill 278 are simply bad public policy that constitute the whims of privileged members that did not get their measures passed through the typical legislative process."

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, defended the bill, saying it is perfectly accessible to the public and that Republicans wrote it to adhere to past court rulings.