House wraps up state budget votes; Wolf plans bill signings

June 28, 2019
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A pedestrian walks by the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Friday, June 28, 2019. The Pennsylvania House is working to wrap up final budget-season votes two days until the fiscal-year deadline, the morning after grinding to a halt over a critical education bill. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The final pieces in the legislative puzzle that makes up a $34 billion compromise state budget package were on their way Friday to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf after the Pennsylvania House wrapped up work with a flurry of votes.

The Republican-controlled chamber gaveled out for the summer after approving a critical education bill that had stalled the night before.

The 2019-20 spending plan, for the budget year that starts Monday, funnels $210 million more into K-12 education and is expected to put nearly $300 million into the state government’s “rainy day” budgetary reserve.

Wolf’s office said he would be signing bills later Friday, although it was unclear if he planned any vetoes.

A separate measure helps counties afford new voting machines that have an auditable paper trail ahead of the 2020 presidential election, although Democratic lawmakers protested some of the bill’s provisions that changed election laws.

Healthy revenues eased pressure on lawmakers and the governor this year, and legislative leaders said the deal required no increases in income or sales taxes. It authorizes new spending of nearly $2 billion, or about 6 percent more than the current fiscal year’s approved spending.

A last-minute dispute late Thursday ground House business to a halt. Some Republicans objected to a provision to lower children’s mandatory age to start school from 8 to 6, and Democrats were upset the Senate had not approved measures to foster career and technical education.

Ultimately, the school age provision, along with increasing the minimum drop-out age from 17 to 18, was intact when the House passed the bill and sent it to Wolf. The career and technical education bills were folded into a separate bill that was then sent to the Senate.

Wolf and his Democratic allies did not succeed in a push to raise the state’s minimum wage, and the governor also did not get a new fee on municipalities that rely solely on state troopers for local police services. Republicans also were again able to block a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, which Wolf had hoped to use for infrastructure and development projects.

The Legislature authorized borrowing $90 million to pay for voting machines, bundling with election law changes that would end the option of straight party ticket voting and relax the state’s absentee ballot rules. Wolf has not said if he will sign it.

He also has to decide whether to approve legislation that will end a decades-old cash assistance program for the poor, a bill that also reauthorizes state subsidies for Philadelphia hospitals. That bill did not get a single Democratic vote in either the House or Senate. The bill was under consideration this week when the Senate devolved into an episode of shouting and name-calling.

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