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Local lawmakers, school official see bright spots in budget

February 09, 2006|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Reaction from Franklin County legislators to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's $25.4 billion proposed budget was mixed, with praise for holding the line on taxes and questions about how to pay for increased spending outlined in the plan.

"Overall, I think it's a fairly reasonable blueprint to start from," state Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin/Adams, said after Rendell's budget address. Punt said he views favorably proposals to increase funding for education and highway and bridge repairs and cuts in state business taxes.

"Those things are all going to be good for the overall economy and the tax structure," Punt said.

"He fails to address what I consider the public welfare crisis in Pennsylvania," said state Rep. Rob Kauffman. "We're concerned with the growth in spending for entitlements because in good times you can pay for it, but when the economy sees a downturn, that's when you see a real crisis in the budget."

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Kauffman said Rendell's budget calls for increasing overall spending 3.8 percent over the 2005-06 budget, but the actual figure could be closer to 5 percent. While no new taxes are proposed, Kauffman said revenue projections include $220 million from slot machines and "that is something that has yet to be realized."

"I always try and keep an open mind whenever a governor, Republican or Democrat, presents his budget," said state Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-Franklin.

Fleagle said he favors Rendell's call for accelerating the phase-out of the capital, stock and franchise tax, which taxes the value of businesses, and an increase in the net operating loss deduction, which will help start-up businesses that often post losses their first few years.

"He's moving in the right direction as far as state funding for education," Fleagle said, with proposals to increase the basic education subsidy to school districts by 5 percent and special education funding by 4 percent. More money from the state means less reliance on local property taxes, he said.

As a percentage of the overall school budgets, state subsidies have been shrinking for years, Tuscarora School District Superintendent Thomas Stapleford said. As the county's only Act 72 district, the proposed increases are welcome news.

"It reduces the amount of tax we have to ask for from the public in a referendum," Stapleford said. Under Act 72, voters must approve any budget that calls for a property tax increase above an inflationary index set by the state.

"Any increase in state aid ... actually has a fairly significant impact on us," said Stapleford. Approximately 45 percent of the district's funding comes from the state, a higher percentage than many districts receive.

"I love election years," Stapleford said. "It's amazing. The money seems to get a little more plentiful."

State library subsidies were slashed three years ago, causing the Franklin County Library System to cut hours and employees, but Rendell proposes raising them $14.1 million to $75.5 million.

"It should mean putting some of those hours back and getting some staff back," said Bernice Crouse, executive director of the county's library system. The governor's plan could mean an extra $200,000 for county libraries, she said.

Fleagle and Punt said the House and Senate begin looking at the budget in-depth in the next two weeks.

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