Ridge's budget plan gets mixed reviews

February 04, 1998


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Reaction from area legislators to the 1998-99 Pennsylvania budget plan presented Tuesday by Gov. Tom Ridge was mixed, although they supported its tax relief for low-income families and increases in economic development and job training programs.

"I like the governor's attempt to eliminate state income taxes for families earning under $25,000," state Rep. Jeffrey Coy, D-Franklin, said Wednesday. That could save families about $700 a year, a statement from his office said.

"What I thought was absent from the governor's address and plan was any discussion about lowering property taxes," Coy said. He called it "the killer tax for middle-income families" and senior citizens on fixed incomes.


Coy said he would like to see the state reduce property taxes by 50 percent over five years, a cut of about $2 billion. More efficient spending and use of state surpluses could be used to accomplish the reduction, his statement said.

According to Coy, Pennsylvanians have seen their taxes increase by $1 billion under Ridge because of increased gas taxes and other fees.

State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, predicted passage of the budget by early May, about the same time as last year. The deadline is June 30, but Republicans control the House and Senate, along with the governor's mansion.

"I think the discipline the Ridge administration has shown in the last few years is really paying benefits," said state Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Franklin. He praised the proposal to cut the income tax for lower income families.

Fleagle said the administration has "seen the wisdom" of eliminating a proposal included in previous budget plans for local governments without police departments to pay for state police service.

"The state police budget is fully funded so there's no proposal for funding from local municipalities," he said. Antrim Township in his district was "looking at a cost of $1 million a year to pay for state police services," Fleagle said.

Fleagle noted the $17.8 billion general fund plan includes $15 million to pay for common pleas courts, the result of a state Supreme Court decision several years ago.

"Franklin County will be a net loser in that proposal. The bulk of the monies will be going to court administration in Philadelphia and Allegheny County," Fleagle said.

He said education spending would be funded "above the cost of living" at 3.5 percent, but Coy said college tuition hikes of about $100 could have been avoided.

"For a little bit more, about 5 percent, we could avoid any tuition increase," Coy said. He favored a 7 percent increase in higher education assistance programs, but said the programs were underfunded in previous years.

The increase in basic education means $1 million for Franklin County schools and $120,000 for special education programs, Fleagle said. He said the budget includes $2 million in increased funding for the South Mountain Restoration Center, which has been losing federal funding.

The budget includes an additional $300,000 for the Scotland School for Veterans Children, according to Fleagle. There's also $1 million more for agricultural research and marketing.

Coy, Fleagle and Punt said they were pleased with increased funding for welfare to work, job training programs and economic development programs.

Punt said all of the more than 40 economic development projects here were approved last year, receiving about $10 million in state assistance.

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