With budget, Corbett sets legislative agenda

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett set state lawmakers’ agenda yesterday, when he delivered his first budget address.

    Corbett’s education policies drew the most attention, and will likely become the focal point of legislative debate in the months to come.

    Corbett campaigned on a promise to cut state spending and avoid new taxes.

    Tuesday morning, he delivered.

    “I said we’d cut. I’m not asking you to read my lips. I’m asking you to read my budget,” said the governor.

    The Republican’s $27.3 billion budget cuts funding from 19 departments, and eliminates 1,500 state jobs.

    “This budget sorts the must-haves from the nice to haves. Some of the cuts were expenditures in the thousands. Some ran into the millions,” Corbett said.

    Count education funding in the millions. Corbett wants to take about $550 million out of the subsidy Pennsylvania provides to public school districts. The cut makes up for the disappearing stimulus money, but represents a major shift from the Rendell Administration, which made the basic education subsidy its top priority.

    Corbett’s plan also chops state support for colleges and universities in half.

    Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa calls that proposal “draconian.”

    “It’s unconscionable that we’re going to cut 50 percent of higher ed, as it relates to our state-related, our state systems. Somebody just asked the question about, ‘How are we going to deal with that? The outcome is simple,” he said. “It’s going to mean higher tuition costs for our families that are already struggling to put their kids through school.”

    Administrators at state-related universities are howling about the proposal, which will likely be one of the most-debated aspects of Corbett’s budget.

    The spending plan budget is just the first step of a months-long process. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jake Corman reminded reporters of that when he sidestepped a question about whether he supports the higher education cuts.

    “You know, the governor laid out a blueprint today. So I think now it’s important for us to do our job. To allow the institutions to come in, to allow the students to come in, to make their case on how this would impact higher education, both from a tuition perspective, from an infrastructure perspective,” he said. “And then allow the governor–we just heard his speech, we haven’t had a chance to go through it with him–articulate his vision on higher education for Pennsylvania’s future.”

    Corbett told the lawmakers they’d been given a mandate to balance Pennsylvania’s 4 billion dollar deficit without raising taxes.

    “We are four months out from the election that sent us here. It was run on a three-part theme: jobs, jobs, and jobs,” he said. “And every time someone was asked about new taxes, they, and particularly me, gave a three-part answer: no, no and no.”

    But Democrat Joe Markosek, the House Appropriations Committee’s minority chair, was one of many critics arguing Corbett’s education cuts will trigger local tax hikes.

    “This is not a no-tax budget. It’s a no state tax budget, perhaps. But it will not be a no-tax budget at the end of the day for most Pennsylvanians. School taxes will have to go up,” he warned.

    Budget hearings begin Monday. Corbett and legislative leaders have vowed not to repeat recent history, and sign the package of bills into law well before the June 30 deadline.

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