PA Senate Approves State Budget Plan
The Pennsylvania Senate approved a $27.6 billion budget plan today by a vote of 39-8. The plan improves upon the budget proposed by Governor Corbett, but deep cuts to education and health services remain.
On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a rare display of bipartisanship, adopted two Democratic amendments and unanimously approved the spending plan.
The Senate budget, Senate Bill 1466, finds savings from reduced spending on general obligation debt and school employee retirement costs. Most departments remain unchanged. Funding for education, public welfare and health account for the bulk of the changes.
In early public statements, the Governor is not on board, calling the Senate budget plan "unsustainable." It is not clear if that is saber rattling or if the Governor will agree to a plan that spends $27.6 billion, or $517 million more than he proposed in February.
The Senate plan leaves money on the table. The Governor’s proposal to cap the sales tax vendor discount, which would have saved $41 million, is gone. The capital stock and franchise tax cut, worth $90 million this year and $150 million more the following year, remains. So the budget continues to cut services and shift costs to local taxpayers while continuing tax breaks we cannot afford.
The plan reduces the allocation to the public school retirement system by $60 million and restores funding for a number of programs. The plan does not include the Governor’s proposed student achievement block grant, maintaining the original line items for basic education, pupil transportation, employee Social Security and services to non-public schools.
- Adds $50 million for Accountability Block Grants;
- Adds $50 million to the Basic Education line for "distressed schools," although the allocation formula was not discussed. Basic Ed would increase to $5.405 billion;
- Restores $4.1 million to Pre-k Counts;
- Restores $1.9 million to Head Start;
- Maintains special education funding at $1.026 billion;
- Restores $2.7 million to the Public Library Subsidy; and
- Increases pupil transportation by $4.3 million.
The proposal restores higher education funding to current year levels:
- Adds $64 million to Penn State for a total of $227 million;
- Adds $40.2 million to Pitt and $42 million to Temple;
- Adds back $82.6 million to the State System of Higher Education for a total of $412.8 million;
- Adds back $8 million of $19 million cut from PHEAA student grants;
- Restores grants to institutions and the Cheney University Keystone Academy to $1.525 million.
The Senate plan is disappointing with respect to services provided by the Department of Public Welfare. The plan maintains the Human Services Block Grant, combining seven line items for county-provided services while restoring only half of the $168 million cut proposed by the Governor. The cut to the General Assistance cash grant program, serving 68,000 Pennsylvanians, was not restored.
- Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities cut by $6.3 million. As this line draws down federal funds, the cut will be closer to $10 million;
- Leaves intact a cut of $159 million to General Assistance Cash Grants;
- Increases the Medical Assistance Inpatient line by $11.5 million;
- Adds $32 million to long-term care to replace funding from the Tobacco Settlement Fund;
- Restores funding for Medical Assistance Transportation (MATP);
- Restores most hospital supplemental funding, including $3 million for neonatal and OB services;
- Allocates $10 million more for the Intellectual Disabilities community waiver program;
- Increases autism services line by $239,000;
- Cuts child care services line by $8.7 million;
- No change to Child Care Assistance from levels proposed by the Governor; and
- Maintains the Human Services Block Grant proposed by the Governor and restores $84.2 million, or one-half of the $168 million cut.
Several of the line items addressing individual diseases were restored:
- Hemophilia restored to $949,000;
- Line items for regional poison control, trauma programs, epilepsy, bio-tech research and Tourette Syndrome were restored.
Labor and Industry
- Adds back $500,000 to New Choices/New Options.
Community and Economic Development
- Tourism Marketing up $800,000;
- $3 million additional to the Commonwealth Financing Authority; and
- $450,000 for accredited zoos.
- Restores funding to several programs that had been cut by the Governor.
- Total agricultural funding goes from $56 million to $129 million, much of which is for agricultural programs at Penn State and Pitt, which the Governor had proposed funding out of the Horse Race Development Fund.
No Change for Most Agencies
Funding for the Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and Environmental Protection (DEP), as well as Corrections, Insurance, Military and Veterans Affairs, State Police and Department of State, remains unchanged.