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Pa. spending plan includes plenty of cuts that are felt locally

July 01, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- When the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the state's 2010-11 spending plan Wednesday, it carved out parts of many department's budgets.

"There are tough cuts, no question about it," said state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York.

Included in those cuts were 9 percent for libraries, 31 percent for tourism promotion, 7 percent for state parks operations and 30 percent for state forests operations, and almost 16 percent for the mosquito control connected to the spread of the West Nile virus.

Also slashed was the funding stream for rail, freight and intermodal coordination as well as rail freight assistance. Alloway said he wasn't sure what that would mean for the Norfolk Southern project planned at Exit 3 of Interstate 81 in Antrim Township, Pa.

"I have assurances from my leadership that they will support me on this important project," he said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell traveled to the planned intermodal facility site in August 2009 to tout the private-public partnership leading to development of the $95 million to $105 million rail-truck facility.

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The "rail, freight and intermodal coordination" line item was reduced by 18 percent in the budget, and the "rail freight assistance" item was zeroed out, according to budget documents posted online by House Republicans.

Rendell said he'd wait to sign the budget until companion legislation was approved.

State Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, said Thursday afternoon it appeared as if legislators might be working out the details over the holiday weekend.

For fairs across the state, the budget appears to contain 50 percent less funding for premiums paid to exhibitors. Franklin County Fair organizer Robert Eckstine said a $10 to $15 prize means a lot to a 13-year-old exhibitor.

"To me, that's the disheartening thing," he said.

Fair funding was cut in half for 2009-10, when the budget was finalized 100 days late, and Franklin County didn't receive its payments until January, Eckstine said. It had paid out the premiums in November, he said.

Eckstine expects to lose $6,000 to $7,000 in premiums for this year's fair, scheduled for Aug. 15 to 21.

"It's not just affecting Franklin County, it's hurting everyone across the state," he said.

Bernice Crouse, Franklin County Library System's executive director, said the latest decisions mean the system will have lost $255,000 in state funding over two years. The 2009-10 cut was about 21 percent, she said.

"On top of what happened last year, this is really going to make providing services to our county tough," Crouse said.

Public libraries also lost reimbursement for services provided for residents from other parts of the state, Crouse said. Without alternate funding sources, library hours, staffing and programs could be further affected, she said.

"There's no way around that," she said.

The state's 500 school districts received a $250 million increase in basic education funding, but Rendell warned that will be lost if Congress doesn't approve federal funding he and other governors requested. The Associated Press reported Rendell said he would take $350 million from social services.

Such cuts "would be disastrous for the state and its people," Rendell said.

Tuscarora School District Business Manager Eric Holtzman said his school board budgeted no state increase above 2009-10.

"It was too uncertain," he said.

The district's share of the $250 million, which would be approximately $353,000, might need to be used to offset anticipated decreases in education assistance program and accountability block grants, according to Holtzman.

Chambersburg Area School District spokeswoman Sylvia Rockwood said the board budgeted an increase in state funding, but designated that money to bolster the depleted savings account.

"We are closely watching the budget as it develops," she said. "If the (district) receives less than budgeted in state revenue, it will be necessary to take a hard look at our already approved spending plan and make additional cuts in planned expenditures."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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