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State budget under deadline pressure

May 31, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

Editor's note: This is the first story in a two-part series focusing on the 2009-10 Pennsylvania budget and its impact on residents. Tuesday's story focuses on education.

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Will the Pennsylvania Legislature pass its 2009-10 budget by its June 30 deadline?

"I don't think it'll be passed on time. The Democrats and the governor, their strategy works best in crisis times," said state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland.

"I don't know how we're going to find middle ground," said state Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin.

"My only hope is we can come together before June 30," said state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York.

A missed deadline in 2007 prompted Gov. Ed Rendell to furlough 24,000 state workers and shut down some services.

The Senate already passed its spending proposal, which maintains the current tax rate, but includes cuts in many areas like agriculture, arts and economic development. Critics have been especially vocal about changes to education funding and cuts for in-home care for handicapped people on Medicaid.

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"The House Democrats told us this is unacceptable," Alloway said.

Recent hearings of the House appropriations committee focused on the merits of the Senate's proposal, as well as the one put forth by Rendell in February. Republicans, who are in the minority 104-98 in the House, have complained they are sidelined in the budget process.

"There's not been any forward progress," Kauffman said, saying he feels House Democrats are developing ways to spend as much money as possible.

Revenue-generating ideas circulating in Harrisburg, Pa., include raising the personal income tax from 3.1 percent to 4.1 percent and raising taxes on tobacco products. The introduction of video poker in casinos and fees assessed on natural gas drilling also remain possibilities.

"There are a lot of options on the table. We can pass a budget without (an income) tax increase," Rock said.

With just a few days of classes remaining, the future of Scotland (Pa.) School for Veterans' Children remains in limbo with the state budget. Rendell proposed closing the school north of Chambersburg, Pa., after this academic year, while others like Kauffman say a better assessment of the students' needs and a transition period are needed.

"It's certainly not a done deal. It'll be one of those things that comes down to the wire," he said.

Rock doesn't hold on to as much optimism.

"If the Senate agrees with the governor, I don't see how it survives," he said, saying he prefers a transition period but events that have already transpired are "not a good sign."

Alloway said he hasn't heard anything new about Scotland School for Veterans' Children in recent weeks, but he says many House Democrats indicated they want to fund it.

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