GOP lawmakers criticize overspending for Pa.’s medical assistance programs

Jen Swails, Pennsylvania budget secretary, testifies before the House Appropriations Committee on March 5, 2020, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. (Ed Mahon/PA Post)

Jen Swails, Pennsylvania budget secretary, testifies before the House Appropriations Committee on March 5, 2020, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. (Ed Mahon/PA Post)

This article originally appeared on PA Post.

Budget hearings that concluded this week in Harrisburg shed light on how far apart Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled General Assembly are on agreeing to a spending plan for the 2021 fiscal year.

Here are three things to know from the final days of hearings. (The Senate finished Wednesday; the House finished Thursday.)

Criticisms of overspending this year

Last year, Wolf and the legislators agreed to spend about $34 billion through the general fund budget.

But more than half way through the fiscal year, the Wolf administration says it expects to spend nearly $34.6 billion by June 30, mostly because of overspending on medical assistance programs in the Department of Human Services.

Jen Swails, Wolf’s budget secretary, told lawmakers these programs were underfunded and the state is required to provide services to disabled people or older residents who require long-term care.

“We don’t have the option to create a waiting list for the services. We must provide these services,” Swails said during the House Appropriations Committee hearing.

House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York) criticized the spending in the Department of Human Service, saying the governor broke the budget agreement reached with the legislature.

“When we deal with a governor, we have every reason to believe that he will live up to his commitments, to what he has negotiated,” Saylor said.

Concerns about next year’s spending proposal

Wolf wants to spend about $36 billion next year, a 4.22 percent increase over what his administration expects to spend this year. Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) says it’s too high. He said a 2 percent spending increase is more likely.

“That is a global issue we’ve got to deal with,” Browne said.

Overall, Browne said the differences between the governor’s proposal and what the legislature wants appear less challenging than in some past years.

Questions over a variety of proposals

Browne said he expects some GOP support for Wolf’s workforce development proposals and proposed K-12 education increases. But he said a proposal to take about $200 million away from the racehorse industry has met a lot of resistance. Wolf wants to use the money for college scholarships.

“Providing greater access to our children for higher education is important, so the use of the money has support from folks,” Browne said. “But I’m not hearing much support for the funding source.”

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