Senate bill to restore $500 million in budget cuts
HARRISBURG - The Senate plans to start voting on a $27.6 billion state budget bill Tuesday that seeks to restore about $500 million of the spending cuts proposed earlier this year by Gov. Tom Corbett.
This legislation will make a full restoration in state funding to higher education, restorations to early childhood education and school district accountability block grants under basic education and an $84 million restoration of a proposed $168 million cut to county-run human services programs, said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, R-34, Bellefonte, this afternoon.
The Senate Appropriations Committee plans to take the first action on the bill Tuesday with floor votes slated later in the week. The Senate action will start the ball rolling in the process to enact a final state budget in late June in accord with the House and the governor.
"It's the first shot in the battle," said Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Nanticoke, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The budget bill is being negotiated with Republican and Democratic senators and could draw a measure of bipartisan support, said Corman.
Democratic senators are expected to offer amendments in committee.
The $27.6 billion bill for fiscal 2012-13 is based on recent projections by the newly created Independent Fiscal Office that the state's estimated revenue shortfall for fiscal 2011-21 is declining to $300 million, said Corman.
"It gives us the ability to do some restorations," he added.
And some lawmakers say the shortfall might decline even more.
These restorations include specifically:
- Blocking the governor's proposed cuts in state higher education aid of 30 percent for Pennsylvania State University and 20 percent for the state-owned universities.
- Restoring a chunk of funding for accountability block grants which the governor has proposed to zero out and for early childhood education. School districts use accountability block grants to pay for full-day kindergarten and pre-school programs.
- By restoring $84 million for county human services programs, a 20 percent state aid cut would be halved to 10 percent. The Senate bill doesn't address Corbett's plan to combine seven of these programs in a single block grant. The seven programs include community mental health and mental disability services, the human services development fund, homeless assistance, child welfare grants, the Behavioral Health Services Initiative and Act 152 drug and alcohol treatment.
The governor proposed a $27.1 billion budget in February based on revenue projections then showing a $700 million revenue shortfall. Growth in corporate tax revenue is one reason for the state's improving fiscal picture during the past two months.
Corbett said last week he's willing to discuss restoring spending in education and human services, but wants to see where any offsetting cuts could be made. He voiced caution about the impact of overseas developments on the nation's economy.
The Senate action comes with the Capitol full of session day rallies by advocacy coalitions and organizations seeking to block cuts to education, public welfare and human services.
"We are working with the Senate in crafting a budget," said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-28, Pittsburgh. "Our priorities if there's sustainable revenue is to put some more money in education K-12 and higher education and some of the county human services like mental health and mental retardation."
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