House GOP budget plan restores some Pa. education funds

    The House Republican budget is now out in the public. Though it’s in sharp contrast to Gov. Tom Corbett’s spending plan, the parameters of the budget had been public for several days before Tuesday’s official announcement.

    The GOP plan would maintain Corbett’s $27.3 billion spending level, but dramatically increase funding for State System of Higher Education and state-related colleges and universities. Instead of losing more than half of their state funding, SSHE schools would receive 85 percent of last year’s budget, while Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities would lose a quarter of their state support.

    “I think everybody standing behind me was as surprised as you were, when the governor proposed a 54 percent decrease in funding for our 14 state-owned universities,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph. “Many of these universities are the economic engine in those communities.” In all, the House GOP plan provides $377 million more than Corbett’s budget for higher education.

    House Republicans would also increase funding for K-12 education, and restore the accountability block grant program, which many school districts use to fund early childhood education efforts. (The block grant funding would be less than half of its current level, but Corbett wanted to completely eliminate the program.)

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    Other changes include a 5-percent reduction for General Assembly funding–about three times as large of a cut as Corbett proposed–and $55 million more for hospitals across Pennsylvania.

    The bulk of the education money comes from the Department of Public Welfare’s budget. Corbett wanted to increase DPW spending by $700 million, citing increased demands and case loads. House Republicans would eliminate $470 million of that bump.

    Tuesday, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody accused the GOP of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by shifting money from welfare to education, instead of increasing the overall budget amount and raising taxes. Adolph disagreed, saying “$470 million dollars is a lot of money, but you have to put in the perspective of what we’re spending in the Department of Welfare. This year’s budget is still a 1-percent increase over last year’s budget. We are spending $10.7 billion.”

    Dermody’s Senate counterpart, Jay Costa, refrained from bashing the Republican budget in an e-mailed statement. “It seems that our colleagues across the aisle have heard some of the concerns of men and women across the Commonwealth who thought the governor’s budget was too austere, too draconian in its cuts to education,” he wrote. “We look forward to receiving the amendment and learning more of the specifics of the plan, particularly how those Department of Public Welfare programs which serve children, the elderly and the disabled are affected.”

    As expected, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai rejected the suggestion of incorporating a $500 million tax surplus into next year’s spending plan. “Look, as we move into the next year’s budget, we don’t know what this economy’s going to do,” he reasoned. “Gas prices are at $4. And everybody knows that it’s not clear whether the economy is going to continue to grow, or revenues are going to continue to come in.” Turzai said he doesn’t want to spend money just for the sake of spending it, and repeated his mantra of state government “living within its means.”

    Turzai said his goal is to pass the budget and send it to the Senate by the end of May.

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