Local lawmakers think Pa. budget 'reasonable'

June 28, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A $27.7 billion spending plan passed Thursday by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives calls for 10 percent cuts to human services, flat funding for state-supported colleges and universities, and slight increases for K-12 education.

The Pennsylvania Senate may vote as early as Friday on the budget, which affects the 2012-13 fiscal year starting Sunday. The House passed the plan 120-81 after three hours of debate.

In interviews at the Capitol, Republican lawmakers from Franklin County, Pa., said they support the budget drafted by their party’s leadership. The proposal restores $500 million from what Gov. Tom Corbett proposed in February.

Still, Rep. Rob Kauffman, Rep. Todd Rock and Sen. Richard Alloway said the effect on human services is troubling. All three pointed out the governor had initially proposed 20 percent cuts in that section of the budget.

“Certainly, 20 percent was unacceptable. Ten percent is hard to take,” said Rock, R-Franklin.

Kauffman, R-Cumberland/Franklin, said a bright spot on the human services front is that a $50 million allocation will allow about 600 adults with special needs to get waivers for post-school assistance. They are on a waiting list currently, according to Kauffman.

Franklin County’s commissioners joined many of their counterparts across the state in asking that funding for human services be restructured. They have asked for a block grant model that would give them more flexibility in how dollars are spent to aid people in need, like those with intellectual disabilities.

The latest budget does not feature those block grants, although the legislators say it could be a pilot program next year for select counties.

“We’re trying to get Franklin County into the pilot. Our commissioners really want this,” said Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York.

In an email, Franklin County Commissioners Chairman David Keller said the current aid figures could mean fewer people served, or the level or amount of services they receive could be diminished.

“We would look first to reduce administrative costs before cutting services, but it is likely that services will be impacted,” he said.

One upcoming change is that executives of nonprofit organizations providing human services will have their salaries subject to open records laws, Kauffman said.

For rank-and-file legislators like Kauffman, Rock and Alloway, Thursday started quietly as they awaited final negotiations among legislative leaders to conclude. The House began its session at 1:30 p.m. and the Senate at 3:15 p.m.

Democrats quickly spoke out against the budget in the House, criticizing the human services cuts and saying not enough is being done for K-12 schools, roads and bridges.

State Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland, said, “Local taxes have had to be raised ... because this budget is woefully inadequate to help” municipalities and school boards.

The 2012-13 budget will feature about $370 million in additional spending, which is a 1.4 percent increase over last year. It does not include a tax increase.

“Most people would call that (spending increase) reasonable, and it’s under the rate of inflation,” Rock said.

“We feel we’re at a stable level of revenue versus spending,” Kauffman said.

“I think the budget is fair, and I think it is reasonable. It makes some necessary cuts, but we’re also able to maintain some important programs,” Alloway said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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