ROBERT SWIFT: Capitol Matters: Block grants remain popular at county level
HARRISBURG - County officials are enthusiastic supporters of the human services block grant introduced last year by the Corbett administration, but they would like to see some more state dollars added to the component programs in the next state budget.
Twenty counties, including Luzerne and Wayne, are participating in a pilot program where they have some flexibility to shift funding around seven programs that provide a gamut of services, including aid for the mentally disabled and assistance for the homeless.
Gov. Tom Corbett proposes to include as many of the 67 counties as want to participate in the block grant while keeping state funding basically the same in the fiscal 2013-14 budget.
Counties will work to restore an $84 million cut in human services funding made last year in the final budget, said Brinda Carroll Penyak, deputy director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. This would make a start at compensating for continual cuts in state aid over the past decade.
One feature of Mr. Corbett's transportation funding plan is to provide dedicated funding each year for rail freight, aviation and river port projects.
He is seeking approval to create a "multi-model" fund that would have $60 million available the first year and $80 million by the fifth year. A portion of these funds would come from Vehicle Code fine and penalty revenue.
Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said this fund will allow planning for projects to improve rail lines, airports and ports over a period of years.
It would eliminate the inefficiency of the department's rail freight assistance program which can't do long-term planning because its budget appropriation can fluctuate annually, he said.
A gubernatorial commission suggested in 2011 that this approach can help with development of short-line railroads to serve natural gas drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale region and thus reduce congestion from truck traffic on highways.
The governor's budget proposes zero funding for a number of state programs and these will be the focus of other restoration fights in the Legislature this spring.
Health programs would take a hit with no state funding slated for diabetes, lupus, and Tourette Syndrome programs, support services for epilepsy and ALS, regional poison control centers and trauma programs coordination, according to the House Democratic Appropriations Committee.
State aid to county conservation districts currently at $2.8 million would be eliminated under the proposed budget.
"Cutting the funding for Pennsylvania's Conservation Districts while demands for their services are increasing hurts agriculture, infrastructure and the environment," said Robert Maiden, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts.
ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is part. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.