Rally calls attention to governor's proposed cuts

Opponents argue less social-service funding would mean higher court, prison costs

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Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed state budget would not save money for taxpayers but instead would shift more social-service costs to counties, policy analyst Sharon Ward cautioned Tuesday.

She was the keynote speaker at the "Campaign for What Works" rally to build support for amending the governor's $27 billion spending plan for 2012-13. The state's fiscal year begins July 1.

Ms. Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a Harrisburg think tank, said the state Legislature and Mr. Corbett should concentrate instead on raising revenues by closing corporate tax loopholes and delaying tax cuts.

The "Campaign for What Works" is a continuation of a successful effort in December to persuade Allegheny County Council not to trim social-service programs by $22 million this year. Council overruled the recommendation of former county Executive Dan Onorato to cut county support for a variety of programs by $5 million, a move that would have triggered the loss of $17 million in state funds.

Balancing that larger budget, however, included a 21 percent, or 1 mill, increase in property taxes.

The "Campaign for What Works" is a joint project of the United Way of Allegheny County, the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership and The Pittsburgh Foundation. The afternoon event drew more than 100 people to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall on Pittsburgh's South Side.

Grant Oliphant, president of The Pittsburgh Foundation, predicted that the proposed reductions in social-service spending could end up costing Pennsylvania residents much more in future court costs, prisons and institutional care than would be saved next year. He characterized the state's planned 20 percent cuts as "draconian."

The governor's plan calls for combining funds for six different programs into a single Human Services Development Fund block grant.

While total dollars are reduced in the governor's proposed budget, counties will have more discretion in deciding which programs to finance, Carey Miller, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Welfare, said.

"Counties have long requested relief from state mandates and more flexibility in funding for things like mental-health services," she said. "The governor believes the counties know better than the state what programs would better serve their people."

Bob Nelkin, president of the local United Way, calculated that the Corbett budget would mean service cuts of $28.4 million in Allegheny County programs next year. That number translates into the loss of about 1,000 social-service jobs, he said. It means that tens of thousands of families and individuals would lose access to mental health, intellectual disability, drug and alcohol abuse and homelessness-prevention programs, he warned.

The state Constitution requires that the Legislature pass a budget by June 30. Organizers of the "Campaign for What Works" said they plan to use the time until then to persuade county officials to support budget amendments and to lobby state legislators to restore cuts in the governor's spending plan.

Those attending Tuesday's "budget watch session" were urged to sign up for legislative visits and to record video testimony on how the proposed budget would affect their agencies.

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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