Wolf moving to consolidate major health agencies

     Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg(Kevin McCorry/WHYY, file)

    Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg(Kevin McCorry/WHYY, file)

    Governor Tom Wolf has taken a major step in his quest to cut spending ahead of negotiations on next fiscal year’s budget.

    With a nearly $3 billion structural deficit and the GOP-led general assembly opposed to broad-based tax hikes, the governor announced Monday that he intends to combine the departments of Human Services, Health, Aging, and Drug and Alcohol Programs into one giant Department of Health and Human Services.

    Consolidating four major health agencies is Wolf’s most drastic move in a string of efforts to save dollars. Over the last two months, the administration has also announced the closure of a prison and axed thousands of unfilled state jobs, among other things.

    Secretary of Policy and Planning Sarah Galbally said the commonwealth doesn’t yet know how much money it’ll save on the agency consolidation, but promised that the move won’t lead to major job cuts.

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    “Essentially we’re breaking down silos,” she said. “We’re creating new deputies that are taking different programs from different agencies and bringing them together to be run in a more succinct way.”

    GOP leaders have been pushing consolidation for months, and Democrats in both chambers responded optimistically—albeit cautiously—to the governor’s announcement.

    “We’ll evaluate it,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa. “You know, if there’s large job losses it’s going to have a very difficult time getting through the Senate Democratic Caucus, I can tell you that.”

    The consolidation will need legislative approval, and Costa said he anticipates extensive debate and hearings over the decision. No legislation has yet been introduced to start the process.

    Even before the move was officially announced, it had garnered some fierce opposition.

    Gary Tennis, former Secretary of the Drug and Alcohol department was fired last week for refusing to support consolidation.

    After his departure, Tennis warned that combining agencies could have a “disastrous” effect on state services.

    The three other affected secretaries are cooperating with the plan, which is tentatively slated to roll out in July. 

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