With current state budget still unfinished, hearings underway for 2016-17
February 23, 2016 12:00 AM
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Pennsylvania is operating under a partial state budget for the year that ends June 30.
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — When budget hearings began Monday, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee set a ground rule: Members could ask one round of questions on the unfinished Pennsylvania state budget, but then they should move on to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposals for the year to come.
Legislators are embarking on “somewhat of an unusual and uncustomary process” as they review state spending proposals for two fiscal years, Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, said as the House and Senate began three weeks of appropriations hearings.
Pennsylvania is operating under a partial state budget for the year that ends June 30 after Mr. Wolf in December signed into law most of a Republican-supported spending plan but vetoed about half a year’s worth of funding for the main K-12 education line and for state prisons. He has said that he expected legislators to quickly move to complete the budget, but that hasn’t happened.
After Mr. Wolf on Feb. 9 unveiled his next year’s budget proposal, which builds upon the funding increases he would like to get in the current year, legislators were left to consider two years of proposals for a state that budgets annually. That consideration got underway in a formal sense with the start of budget hearings Monday. Over the next three weeks, the House and Senate appropriations committees are scheduled to hear testimony from representatives of the judiciary, the attorney general’s office, the various agencies of the governor’s administration and state-related universities such as Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh.
At the Senate hearing Monday, Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, challenged Mr. Wolf’s claim during his budget address that if his proposals are not enacted, thousands of teachers will be removed from Pennsylvania schools. Mr. Corman noted that the Republican budget would have increased education funding, though not by as much as Mr. Wolf wants.
“The governor’s using all this rhetoric to incite people where we increase funding in every one of those lines,” Mr. Corman said. “There certainly should be no reason to have cuts to these programs when we’re increasing significantly those lines.”
Randy Albright, Mr. Wolf’s budget secretary, reiterated Mr. Wolf’s position that Pennsylvania’s structural deficit — the imbalance between its growing costs, such as pensions and human services, and the revenues to pay for them — means the state faces a choice between raising taxes and enacting serious spending cuts.
“If we have to close that spending gap with budget cuts alone, then that’s what will necessitate some of the deep cuts” that Mr. Wolf outlined, Mr. Albright said.
In the House Appropriations Committee hearings, committee Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, said he doesn’t buy Mr. Wolf’s claim that there are only two paths forward for the state government.
“I do believe that there’s someplace in between,” Mr. Adolph said.
Budget hearings are scheduled to continue today with appearances before the House and Senate committees by the Treasury, the auditor general’s office and the judiciary.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley
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