HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A budget plan savaged by Democrats as taking from the poor to give to the rich but defended by Republicans as appropriate and responsive to taxpayers and businesses won final legislative approval Friday before it went to Gov. Tom Corbett to become law for the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, Corbett won overwhelming approval from the state Senate for his biggest legislative priority: tax breaks designed to entice the multibillion-dollar construction of an integrated petrochemical industry in Pennsylvania.
Still, two key elements of Corbett's education remained in peril late Friday: No final legislation on either had been publicly unveiled and Republican leaders were unable to say whether they could pass either barely 24 hours before lawmakers expect to leave Harrisburg for the summer.
The 32-17 vote in the state Senate on the Republican-penned $27.7 billion plan gives Corbett the opportunity to keep his pledge for the second year in a row to sign an on-time budget, although it went to his desk with barely 30 hours to spare.
Three Democrats voted with majority Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, who nonetheless called it "mean-spirited" to eliminate a Depression-era cash benefit for poor adults who are unable to work.
The 43-6 vote on Corbett's tax-credit plan sent the bill to the House for approval as Republican legislative leaders worked feverishly to write legislation and line up votes to tie down their end-of-session pact with Corbett.
Work was to continue Saturday, the last day of the fiscal year when lawmakers traditionally depart Harrisburg for a two-month break.
The budget plan for the 2012-13 fiscal year that begins Sunday would increase spending by about 1.5 percent, largely for debt, pensions and health care for the poor, as well as to help fill a shortfall in the almost-finished fiscal year.
Meanwhile, it would cut businesses taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars, deposit around $350 million to $400 million into reserves and slash hundreds of millions of dollars from services for the poor, homeless, troubled and disabled.
Aid for public schools and universities would remain flat — a handful of public schools nearing financial collapse would see a little extra money — after absorbing more than $1 billion in cuts in the current fiscal year.
"The budget before us today is responsible and sustainable. ... This is the right budget for our residents and our job creators at this time," Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said in a floor speech. "It moves Pennsylvania in the right direction."
Democrats criticized what they view as tax giveaways to businesses at a time when the state is being stingy with its poor, schools and transportation network.
"It caters to business, not small business, but super-rich, foreign-owned companies to the detriment of our people," said Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia. "It has cuts that will force local property taxes increases and detrimentally affect programs and services for years."
Democrats also won a month delay in the elimination of the General Assistance cash benefit until Aug. 1 so that the Department of Public Welfare can notify tens of thousands of recipients that they'll lose it.
Republicans characterized the elimination of the cash benefit — it costs about $126 million a year — as unavoidable in tough times, and Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland, said they did not do so with a "joyful heart."
But Democrats tore into their counterparts, saying the $200-a-month benefit is all that stands between homelessness, prison or emergency rooms for people who are seeking addiction treatment or are too sick or disabled to work.
"Why?" Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, asked repeatedly. "Why do we walk away?"
Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, said, "In war and in peace, we've always recognized that we're not going to let anyone be on the street."
More than half of the states have a General Assistance cash benefit, though two eliminated it last year and several others scaled it back, according to a December report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Looming over the debate is the spiraling cost of public employee pensions, which is projected by Corbett to rise from about $1.1 billion in the nearly finished fiscal year to $4.3 billion in five years.
The general appropriations bill was just one of several major pieces of budget-related legislation sought by Corbett before the spring legislative session ends.
Corbett failed to win House support for a plan to absorb seven different pots of aid for county-administered services into one block grant program. Rather, he settled for a "pilot" program that could involve up to 20 volunteer counties.
Many nonprofit groups that deliver the state's safety-net services opposed it for fear that mandated services, such as child-abuse investigations or court-ordered counseling, would drain much of the money.