Robert Swift: Capitol Matters: Countdown starts on budget negotiations
HARRISBURG - Two months may seem like a long time for a finale, but that's how state lawmakers think about the next 60 days until the June 30 deadline for passing the 2012-13 state budget.
That it has been nearly three months since Gov. Tom Corbett outlined his plans for a $27.1 billion budget is beside the point.
The Appropriations Committee chairmen are waiting for the Revenue Department report out Tuesday for state tax revenue collections in April as a guidepost. April is big month for personal income and corporate taxes being paid.
Revenue collections during the past two months have been above projections and the trend is expected to continue.
The state Independent Fiscal Office provides reasons for this optimism. Consumer confidence is growing gradually, the average debt of Pennsylvania consumers has leveled off and declined slightly while home starts and sales are forecast to increase this year and next, the newly created fiscal forecasting agency said earlier this month.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-28, Pittsburgh, said the rising tide of revenue will allow for some restorations to state spending cuts that Mr. Corbett proposed in February. But Mr. Turzai declined to say whether an extra $200 million or $300 million in revenue as some speculate will be available for the final budget.
"We are committed to a budget that is under the rate of inflation," he said last week.
Mr. Turzai said the key areas of agreement among majority House Republicans are on the need to lessen the impact of Mr. Corbett's proposed cuts for basic and higher education.
There's a third area involving programs for mental health and mental retardation where GOP lawmakers would like to lessen proposed cuts, said Mr. Turzai.
That sentiment could affect the outcome of Mr. Corbett's proposal to create a block grant for county human services programs.
This proposal involves combining state aid for seven human service programs into a single block grant. The programs are the human services development fund, drug and alcohol outpatient treatment, homeless assistance, child welfare special grants, community mental health services, county aid to individuals with intellectual disabilities and drug and alcohol abuse programs.
Counties would get more leeway to manage the programs without state mandates, but the proposal calls for a 20 percent overall state funding cut from current levels.
The focus of negotiations between the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and the Corbett administration is whether mental health programs really belong under a block grant.
ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is a part. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org