Corbett Readies Pennsylvania For Cleanup

Brad Bumsted
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

With a hurricane, earthquake and tropical storm battering Pennsylvania over 3 1/2 weeks this summer, Gov. Tom Corbett said Saturday it was prudent not to spend $785 million in unanticipated year-end revenue that may be needed for storm cleanup.

Corbett in June resisted efforts to spend that money to reduce some of the cuts made throughout the coming year’s $27 billion budget. The state was trying to close a $4 billion deficit, and revenues rebounded toward the end of the fiscal year.

Now state revenues from tax collections are down again, Corbett told the Republican State Committee. But some of the year-end revenue might be needed for emergencies despite expected federal funding for disaster relief.

Some of the excess revenue might be used for the state’s 25 percent share of bridge repair where 75 percent is paid by the federal government, he said.

When he introduced his cost-cutting budget in March, “people were a little bit shocked,” Corbett said.

“I don’t know why,” he told Republicans at their fall meeting. “That’s what people elected me to do.”

The 2011-12 budget, which cut spending by $1.2 billion, or 4 percent, was the first budget adopted on time in nine years. It did not raise taxes, as Corbett pledged.

Criticism of that budget, especially cuts in education, has continued in the months following its passage.

“I hear the comments about how we cut education,” Corbett said. “I want to tell you, and I hope you tell others, the cuts for education K-12 came from the federal government” because of the loss of federal stimulus dollars.

Total education dollars declined from $10.4 billion last year to about $9.6 billion in the 2011-12 budget. More than $800 million in federal stimulus money expired, but state funding increased to $9.6 billion from $9.3 billion.

In basic education funding for school districts, the 2010-11 funding level — including stimulus money — was almost $5.4 billion. It decreased to $5.35 billion without stimulus funding for 2011-12.

A $259 million block grant program, with wide flexibility on how districts use the money, was reduced to $100 million statewide.

Corbett’s budget “cut hundreds of millions from state funding for education, and it’s led to over 14,000 lost teacher jobs in Pennsylvania, larger (class sizes) for students and fewer programs that will help Pennsylvania’s kids learn the skills they need,” Mark Nicastre, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said later.

On the political front, Corbett told reporters he’ll remain open on a proposal to change how Pennsylvania apportions its 20 electoral college votes. But Corbett said he supports the plan by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, for changing the system.

Under Pileggi’s bill, slated for a hearing next month, the electoral votes will be given to presidential candidates based on who wins each of 18 congressional districts, plus two more for whoever wins the statewide popular vote. Currently, it is a winner-take-all system.

Supporters see it as a way of making Pennsylvania a permanent “red state.” Opponents claim it will take away Pennsylvania’s status and attention as a pivotal swing state.

Corbett told members of the state committee he doesn’t want them focusing on the issue. “I don’t want to take your eye off of November” when statewide judicial and county commissioner and row office races are on the ballot, he said. It’s in the Legislature’s court, he said later.

“After an energizing weekend filled with training sessions, party meetings and a packed dinner celebration,” said Rob Gleason, party chairman, “Republicans are ready to head into this November fighting for our principles and restore America.”

Read more: