Senate weighs state spending plan
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HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania's budget debate will return to center stage in the state Capitol today, when the Senate is expected to begin consideration of a $27.6 billion spending plan that would undo Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed higher education cuts.
That proposal, which would spend about $500 million more than Mr. Corbett suggested earlier this year, would restore funding to current levels for the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University and other commonwealth colleges.
It also would give school districts about $50 million in accountability block grants, which are used for kindergarten and preschool programs. Some social services funding would be restored as well, reducing a 20 percent planned cut to county human services to 10 percent.
Recent upticks in the amount of tax revenues the state is receiving compared to estimates has renewed calls from Democrats and groups affected by the proposed cuts to boost funding in the final budget.
"With the higher revenue numbers, we were able to make some restorations," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman, a Centre County Republican.
The Corbett administration, however, was quick to voice opposition, arguing that rising pension and debt costs in the next few years must be taken into account.
"The Senate budget proposal is not sustainable beyond 2012-13," Corbett spokesman Eric Shirk said. "It would move the state farther away from achieving long-term structural balance."
The spending plan that must be approved by the end of next month will go into effect for the fiscal year that begins in July.
Higher education has been a key focus on both sides of the aisle for potential restorations. In addition to the proposed 30 percent cuts to Pitt, Penn State and Temple University, Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities would see a 20 percent reduction under the governor's budget proposal.
Last year, Pitt and Penn State would have had their funding cut in half under the governor's original budget plan. The final budget reduced their state dollars by about 20 percent.
Speaking to a gathering of local officials Monday in Hershey, Mr. Corbett said he hopes his administration did underestimate state revenues and that some funding can be restored. If more revenues are not collected, he added, he "will not increase the taxes to make the budget pie bigger."
"It's not that I'm against Pitt or Penn State or Temple, but I don't have the money," Mr. Corbett said.
Mr. Corman said his chamber's plan "reflects the same sentiment as the governor's."
First Published May 8, 2012 12:02 am