Details of top GOP lawmakers' budget plan emerge

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HARRISBURG -- As state House lawmakers spent much of the afternoon debating budget amendments, top Republicans in each chamber were prepping to meet with the governor Tuesday evening on a spending plan they crafted behind closed doors.

GOP leaders, who control the House and Senate, have been working on a joint plan since senators approved a $27.65 billion budget in May. The new proposal has not been released, although details that began circulating indicated it includes funding restorations similar to those in the Senate plan.

Those are reported to include higher education funding nearly equal to this year's and $100 million in block grants for full-day kindergarten. Another $26 million would be available for distressed school districts, according to House sources.

Gov. Tom Corbett, who proposed a $27.15 billion state budget in February, has not yet said publicly how much additional spending he would support in light of better-than-anticipated tax collections.

Senate Republicans said the governor did not reveal a revenue target during Tuesday evening's meeting at the governor's residence, which lasted about an hour and a half.

The meeting focused on broad issues, rather than specific line-items, and another session is planned for today.

"The conversation is clearly around his basement budget that he presented and our ceiling and where we go and what numbers we can all live with," said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.

His budget proposed a 20 percent cut to the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University and other state-related universities, and would discontinue the $100 million that public school districts received this year in block grants.

The Senate plan restored that higher education cut and half of the block-grant dollars, citing the rosier revenue figures.

Department of Revenue secretary Dan Meuser told reporters Tuesday that the administration expects a shortfall of around $330 million when the fiscal year ends June 30. That gap was estimated to be more than $700 million when the governor introduced his budget.

While the details of individual line-items remain up for debate, the Corbett administration did announce progress on distribution of human services dollars.

Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and the state's county commissioners association told reporters that they've reached an agreement on how to combine funding for seven social-services programs into one county block grant.

Doing so would afford counties greater flexibility in how they handled cases, officials said. Currently, an individual or family with multiple needs would need to see multiple caseworkers, and each program requires separate auditing and planning, said Jo Ellen Litz, president of the commissioners association.

Allegheny County already handles its funding in a similar way to what is being proposed, said Marc Cherna, director of the county's human services department. Formalizing that process will make the administration of services more efficient, which could help ease current waiting lists, he added.

Agreement on how much funding will go into those block grants, though, remains up to top lawmakers.

The governor's plan reduced funding for those human services by 20 percent, or about $168 million. The Senate restored half of those dollars, a sum the GOP plan also is said to include.

Back on the House floor, some of the changes rumored to be in the Republican-drafted budget could be seen in amendments approved Tuesday.

A proposal from Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, to provide $100 million in school district block grants passed on a mostly party-line vote. Democrats protested that the proposal would shift funding earmarked for distressed public schools.

electionspa - state

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254. Karen Langley and Tom Barnes contributed. First Published June 6, 2012 12:00 AM


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