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Pa. Senate accused of wasteful spending in budget deal

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Grinches roam the Pennsylvania Capitol Complex, as Republicans in both the Senate and House are failing to agree on what appeared to be a previously agreed upon budget framework, thus increasing the reality of getting a new deal done before the Christmas break.

On Wednesday, the Commonwealth Foundation, a public policy think-tank in Harrisburg, released its analysis of the Senate's proposed $30.8 billion budget. They claim their budget, which was approved by a bipartisan vote of 43-7 and was agreed upon by Governor Tom Wolf, requires a $1.2 billion broad-based tax increase, and $100 million in Community and Economic Development (CED) spending.

Of the $100 million in CED money, the Commonwealth Foundation claims $85 million amounts to wasteful spending, or "walking around money", as referred to in a CF release.

"This is new spending and working families are going to have to pay more taxes to pay for that," said Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Nathan Benefield. "We don't know what exactly it'll be spent on."

Some of the line items are vague, Benefield says. They include $11 million devoted to "Industrial Resource Centers", $9.1 million to "Economic Growth and Development Assistance," and $5.9 million towards "Cultural Activities," among other programs. Benefield claims this spending, which he amounts to quid pro quos and "slush funds" which invite corruption, was part of pre-Governor Corbett government.

"These items were slashed and now they're back," Benefield says. "I would liken it to Santa Claus saying you're going to have lots of presents this year, and someone else is going to bring it to you, but we're not going to tell you how we're paying for it.

"We hadn't seen this before Monday. (We) hadn't heard it negotiated as part of any budget deals."

Jennifer Kocher, Senate GOP spokesperson and press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, says these line items were part of the deal House Republicans agreed to.

"We came to an agreement," she says. "We shook the hands."

The $85 million in question is money slashed during Gov. Corbett's prior budget's due to the recession which began around 2009. Kocher says the program funding the Commonwealth Foundation is referring to as "walking around money" will go towards lupus research, breast cancer awareness, and other domestic violence programs. The money will also go towards community development groups.

"This budget is not perfect but it is one the governor has said he will sign," Kocher said. "He wants new revenues. If we're going to have new revenues why not get new revenues for economic development to help our communities?"

On Tuesday, the House GOP-led HB1460, which costs $30.2 billion but Kocher says is not balanced, found its way to the Senate Appropriations Committee where it was gutted and amended to include the Senate's preferred $30.8 billion plan. It will likely be voted on by the rest of the Senate body in the coming days.

Senate Bill 1073, which Gov. Wolf has agreed to sign, has moved to the House, where Republicans have said it is not supported.