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First-year legislator says budget 'financially irresponsible'

July 08, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The $24.3 billion state budget that restores major cutbacks in Pennsylvania's Medicaid program is "fiscally irresponsible," a Franklin County legislator who voted against the budget said Thursday.

State Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, of Chambersburg, Pa., said the new budget, which was signed by Gov. Ed Rendell Thursday, sets the state up for serious fiscal problems next year.

State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, of Waynesboro, voted for the budget and restoration of the Medicaid funds.

"There are things you agree and disagree with, but overall this is a reasonable spending plan," Punt said.

"I'm pleased that the legislature restored more than $360 million in Medicaid cuts," he said. "It will help the truly needy and older people."

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Punt also said the budget includes basic education funding and will not require a tax increase for state residents.

Punt said he is disappointed that more money is not being set aside in the budget for economic development, although it would have little effect on Franklin County projects.

"It won't hurt us because we already have a level of funding that we can draw from," he said.

The budget compromise eliminated cutbacks Rendell had proposed in the state's $4.5 billion Medicaid program, which serves 1.8 million poor, elderly and disabled people.

Rendell wanted the cuts because of shrinking federal support and spiraling increases in costs.

Punt said the governor proposed $500 million in Medicaid cuts.

"Welfare spending is outpacing education in Pennsylvania," Kauffman said. "It's 36 percent of the budget and education is 34 percent."

Overall, the budget increases welfare spending, including Medicaid, by nearly 9 percent. Education spending will grow by less than 4 percent and other parts of the budget will decline by 2 percent.

The level of coverage for Medicaid "far surpasses the federal mandate," Kauffman said. Medicaid in Pennsylvania provides better medical coverage for the poor than an average person with employee-provided medical insurance has, he said.

"We're creating new entitlement coverage," Kauffman said. "It's of grave concern to me. We can't continue on that track."

Kauffman was elected in November. He took over the seat formerly occupied by Jeff Coy, a Democrat.

Legislators also voted themselves a hefty raise, to more than $81,000 per year, the second-highest in the nation behind California. Top judicial and executive branch officials also received salary boosts.

The current salary for state legislators is $69,647.

Kauffman said while he voted against the raises, they are only a minimal part of the overall budget.

He said the raises have generated more interest in press calls he received Thursday than the entire budget did.

The House approved the salary bill 119-79 and the Senate 27-23.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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