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July 1, 2013

Area lawmakers stuck by parties on budget vote

— Every local state representative and senator – except one – stuck to party lines during Sunday’s budget votes.

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, from the 35th district, was the lone person to cross the aisle. He voted in favor of the $28.375 billion financial plan that passed the Senate by a vote of 33-17 with support from Republican Sens. John Eichelberger Jr.  of Hollidaysburg and Donald White of Indiana.

Democratic Sen. Richard Kasunic of Dunbar opposed the plan.

In the House, Republican Reps. Carl Walker Metzgar of Berlin, Dave Reed of Indiana, Mike Reese of Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, and Dick Hess of Bedford sided with the majority, supporting a proposal that got through by a count of 111-92 along strict party lines.

Reps. Frank Burns of East Taylor Township, Gary Haluska of Patton and Bryan Barbin of Johnstown, all Democrats, cast nays.

Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed the budget late Sunday night.

“While the budget doesn’t include everything I’ve advocated for, I voted for the bill because it has a number of wins for Pennsylvanians,” Wozniak said.

Wozniak, who is considering running for lieutenant governor in 2014, feels there are aspects of the budget that will help education and law enforcement.

He believes school districts can benefit from the $122 million increase in basic education funding. The budget also increased spending for the attorney general’s office.

“I’m particularly pleased with the money for the attorney general, especially the extra funds for the Mobile Street Crime Unit,” Wozniak said.

“That $2.5 million will go a long way in protecting our state.”

He objected, though, to the exclusion of most third-class municipalities from the City Revitalization and Improvement Zones program.

CRIZ is designed to provide municipalities with a tool for con­verting blighted and abandoned properties into space for commercial projects and other uses.

However, new language amended into the tax code as pertaining to the 2013-14 budget makes the program available only to municipalities with populations of 30,000 or more.

“The plan only includes a handful of the state’s third-class cities and it excludes cities that need help, such as Johnstown,” Wozniak said.

“I am troubled that the Republican majority took this route and prevented many cities from participating in the program,” he said.

No tax increases were included in the budget.

“We’ve funded everything adequately, but it’s important that we don’t raise taxes because it’s a very fragile time for the Pennsylvania economy,” said Metzgar, whose 69th district covers parts of Bedford and Somerset counties.

“What constituents are telling me is they can’t take any more money out of their pockets,” Metzgar said.

The financial plan failed to address three major issues that were debated in-depth over the past months: transportation funding, the public sector pension system and privatization of the state’s liquor sales.

“Right now, I think they’re all at a little bit of an impasse,” Metzgar said.

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