Pennsylvania budget debate begins
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HARRISBURG -- Debate over the Republican-crafted state budget for next year is set to begin today after party leaders on Tuesday unveiled line-by-line details of their $27.66 billion spending plan.
Those figures showed funding for state universities remaining at current levels, the preservation of a block grant for kindergarten classes, and a deal to maintain grants for college students.
Meanwhile, top lawmakers have yet to reveal final aspects of other items still on their to-do lists, including the ethane tax credit being pushed by Gov. Tom Corbett and proposals to alter teacher evaluations, revise charter-school rules and expand an incentive for businesses that fund private-school scholarships.
House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, said Tuesday that Republican legislative leaders needed to meet again on those policy issues.
The general spending bill, which outlines specifics of the budget framework agreed to last week, won't receive a final vote until at least Thursday, putting the Legislature on a tight schedule to complete its work by Saturday's midnight deadline.
Under the budget measure awaiting discussion today, the University of Pittsburgh would again receive $136 million in state assistance and the 14 colleges in the State System of Higher Education would be flat-funded.
College grants distributed through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency also would take a hit in state dollars, though the agency will use $75 million in investment earnings in order to maintain that aid, lawmakers said.
General aid to K-12 public schools would not be combined with other assistance as the governor proposed in his $27.14 billion plan, and $100 million in a grant for kindergarten and other programs would be restored. The basic state subsidy for public schools would be set at $5.4 billion, an increase of $49 million over the current year.
Those additional education dollars will be targeted at distressed schools, though negotiators were still working on how the funds will be distributed, said Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin and chairman of the Education Committee.
A portion of that money will go to no-interest loans for districts in a proposed fiscal-distress program, he said.
Several programs show decreases in funds from earlier budget proposals, including a further reduction to a line that pays for monthly cash grants to poor and disabled adults.
Also, Mr. Adolph said funding for several human services programs will not be combined into one lump-sum payment to counties as the governor proposed. Counties will still see a 10 percent reduction in dollars for mental health and other programs, and a pilot program will be created for combining those social-services dollars.
While its aspects remain in flux, a Senate panel on Tuesday also moved forward a proposal to make more tax credits available to businesses that contribute to private-school scholarships.
The state now allows $75 million per year in tax credits through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, with that cap poised to increase to $100 million.
Details of a new $50 million tier for the program, targeted at poor- and middle-income students in the state's worst-performing schools, were being finalized on Tuesday.
"If it's designed in a way that is effectively able to deliver choice, assistance, to low-income students that are attending failing and low-income schools, I think we can get that done," Mr. Piccola said.
First Published June 27, 2012 12:00 am