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Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Legislative News | 0 comments

On-Time Spending Plan Sent to Governor’s Desk

The nearly $32 billion bipartisan spending plan (HB 218) for Pennsylvania’s 2017-2018 fiscal year is heading to Governor Wolf’s desk.   By a vote of 173-27, the state House approved the measure. Earlier in the day the bill was approved by the state Senate, 43-7.

Once the budget bill is on the governor’s desk, he has a 10-day window period to take action.

With the spending plan approved, lawmakers must now come up with $2-plus billion to balance the books and work on legislation necessary to enact the budget (i.e. the Code bills that direct how the dollars are spent).

Revenue options being floated include borrowing against future payments from the multi-state tobacco settlement to cover the current year’s deficit, using the state’s public sector pension funds to take out what is essentially considered an advance loan against the state’s 2017-18 payments into the funds, and gaming expansion.

The state’s new fiscal year begins July 1.

15 highlights of what’s in the $32 billion agreed-to state budget plan

Updated June 30, 2017
Posted June 29, 2017

Jan Murphy & Charles Thompson

Thursday evening’s Senate Appropriations Committee drew a big standing-room-only crowd itching to hear more about the $32 billion agreed-to spending plan. The committee approved the bill by a 23-3 vote.

The Senate and House will vote Friday on a proposed $32 billion general fund budget for 2017-18 that Republican and Democratic leaders crafted with Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.

It includes some pleasant funding surprises for some and possibly not-so-pleasant ones for others compared to the $31.5 billion spending plan that the House passed in April. The following highlights of some of those funding changes.

Harrisburg

A $5 million payment to the City of Harrisburg was restored in the Department of General Services budget.

The annual appropriation for “Capitol Fire Protection” was pulled out by House Republicans this spring in a response to the city’s decision this year to triple the local services tax on its workday population, which generated an additional $4 million.

But city officials countered that step was needed to raise new money to help balance its operating budget, and not to replace the $5 million annual payment from the state that was negotiated into the city’s fiscal recovery plan in 2013.

The state appropriation is specifically intended to reimburse the city for the cost of police and fire protection for 50 tax-exempt, state-owned buildings that comprise 42 percent of the city’s land and bring about 30,000 workers into the city. By some estimates, if that state property was on the property tax rolls, Pennsylvania would owe more than $7.5 million annually to the city.

Schools

The agreed-to plan provides the $100 million increase that Gov. Tom Wolf had proposed and that the House kept in its budget proposal for basic education, the lifeblood of state funding for school districts. That increases the state’s investment in basic education to just shy of $6 billion.

In addition, it preserves the governor’s $25 million increase for special education, which also was kept in the House budget. That raises the state spending on educating students with special needs to more than $1.1 billion.

In addition, the Ready to Learn block grant program’s funding was held at $250 million, the same funding it received this year that neither the governor or House budgets touched.

Preschool

Preschool was among the areas that saw an increase in the final budget.

It inserts an additional $5 million above the $25 million that the House Republican budget had increased for educating Pennsylvania’s youngsters, putting the total spend at $226.4 million. However, that $30 million is less than half the $75 million Wolf had proposed in his budget.

The agreed-to budget provides $172.3 million for the Pre-K Counts program and $54.1 million for the state supplement to Head Start.

Busing students

Senate Republicans had made a priority of winning back a $50 million cut that Wolf had proposed in the state’s $549 million subsidy to help defray student transportation costs.

It was a big issue for rural and suburban Republicans, who didn’t buy into Wolf’s argument that this line could be cut by nearly 10 percent with no impact on operations. “That’s something … a lot of members couldn’t live with,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County. “The basic concept is you need to get the kids to the school.”

Lawmakers also note this add-back to current year levels will permit the $100 million in the basic education line to be more of a true gain for the schools.

Penn Vet School

The agreed-to budget has good news for the agricultural industry, and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, in that negotiators agreed to restore a $30.1 million annual appropriation to Penn’s veterinary school – the only such school in the state – and the research programs it operates.

Wolf had initially proposed cutting the allocation this year, arguing that in an austerity budget the state could no longer justify such a large appropriation to one of the best-endowed private universities in the nation. Lawmakers, and Penn, pushed back, noting the school’s New Bolton is a major asset for the state in helping to address emergencies such as the 2015 avian influenza outbreak.

Serving intellectually disabled individuals

Increased funding in the budget for a robust list of supports for intellectually disabled individuals is drawing strong praise from Arc of Pennsylvania. The agreed-to budget provides for a 13.2 percent to over $1.5 billion, the same amount the House GOP-budget had proposed.

That is enough to take 1,000 people off the waiting list for services and for the first time ever, assure the 820 students with intellectual disabilities who graduated from high school the ability to immediately enroll in waiver services such as job coaching, day support, companion services, among others, according to Maureen Cronin, executive director of the Arc of Pennsylvania.

“This year, there was not a waiting list initiative” aimed at reducing it, Cronin said. “We were distraught nobody was taken off the waiting list unless someone died or they no longer needed waiver service. To see there is an increase that assures all high school graduates being enrolled in waiver services upon graduation is the most forward-thinking budget in 10 years.”

Economic development

The agreed-to budget basically level funds the state Department of Economic and Community Development at $145.4 million.

The news here, however, is that budget negotiators added back about $70 million in cuts between Wolf’s February draft, and the House-passed budget voted in April.

The add-backs restore funds for marketing programs to attract tourists, $12 million in job-training funds for emerging markets in manufacturing, and $15 million grant / loan program designed to help seed business expansion or locations in the state.

The black fly spraying program was one of the budget lines that got a haircut in the agreed-to spending plan.

It provides $3.36 million, less than the $3.43 million in the House-passed plan. For those looking for a bright side, the final number is $23,000 more than was available this year to deal with those pesky summertime pests.

Mosquito spraying

Mosquito spraying, reduced by $338,000 to $5 million in the House-passed budget, came out a little better in the end.

The agreed-to budget adds back nearly $200,000 for a total of $5.2 million to curb the spread of West Nile and other viruses these biting insects carry.

General Assembly

The Legislature gave itself a funding boost in the agreed-to budget. It increased its overall funding by 11 percent to $325.2 million from the $293.1 million that was included in the House-passed budget.

The 203-member House gets $211.6 million of that and the 50-member Senate, $113.6 million.

That combined number is 4.8 percent higher than the $310.4 million provided to operate both chambers this year.

Prisons

Overall funding for the Department of Corrections is reduced for the first time in many years, largely due to the scheduled closure of a state prison in Pittsburgh. The state is realizing a projected $86 million in savings in its budget for prison operations, which is still a hefty $1.95 billion.

Courts

Funding for the court system was restored to $355.5 million – the same amount it received this year. That is a nearly 10 percent increase from the $324 million included in the House GOP budget for the state’s judiciary.

Private colleges

Private college officials will be able to breathe easier once this spending bill passes.

It restores funding for institutional assistance grants to this year’s level of $25.7 million. These are grants that go to private colleges for each state grant recipient they enroll to stabilize costs and maintain enrollment –

Wolf had proposed cutting the funding for those grants to $12.5 million as an austerity move. House Republicans considered that move too harsh. They proposed cutting it to $19.3 million instead. But strong lobbying efforts by private college officials succeeded in convincing lawmakers to spare these institutions that educate tens of thousands of students from any funding cut for the coming year.

Public higher education

The agreed-to budget makes two changes to what was included in the House-passed plan that like Wolf’s budget, level funded most of the state’s public higher education institutions.

It gives the Pennsylvania College of Technology a $2 million increase, to $22 million. And Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology will see a $336,000 increase, to $14.3 million.

It preserves the 2 percent increase for the 14 state universities in the State System of Higher Education, giving them a total of $453.1 million. But Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln universities and community colleges will be forced to live on the same funding they received this year.