Corbett Budget Out Today

Hazleton Standard Speaker

Political tensions are running high as Gov. Tom Corbett unveils a proposed state budget today likely to contain a new round of spending cuts for public welfare and education.

Corbett is scheduled to unveil a budget in the $27 billion range with no tax hikes at 11:30 a.m. before a joint session of the General Assembly.

The governor won’t get much political breathing room to outline his spending priorities. A number of advocacy groups from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, including some affiliated with the Occupy movement, plan a noon protest in the Rotunda against what they describe as state tax breaks geared to help the 1 percent — or, the wealthiest.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9, Chester; said Monday the budget will likely have to be balanced with cuts in welfare and education to offset a $500 million shortfall in state tax revenues and increased spending for mandated programs like medical assistance and public pensions.

“There is no support in our caucus for raising taxes on Pennsylvania residents for higher spending,” he added.

United Way of Pennsylvania is one of many organizations bracing for word of new state aid cuts to the non-profit organizations it supports. Two-thirds of the nonprofits received less state aid in the current budget even as demand for services increased, according to a recent United Way survey.

“The best we can hope for is flat funding,” said United Way CEO Tony Ross.

Spending on welfare, education, corrections, public pensions and the state debt comprise 90 percent of the taxpayer supported state General Fund, according to the newly created Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office.

The largest single budget appropriation is the $5.3 billion for the state instructional subsidy for public school districts. Corbett administration cabinet secretaries and agency heads will appear at hearings later this month before the Senate and House Appropriations Committees.

Six senators from Northeast Pennsylvania are the Senate panel. Sens. David Argall, R-29, Tamaqua, Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., John Blake, D-22, Archbald, Lisa Boscola, D-18, Lower Saucon Twp, John Gordner, R-27, Berwick, and John Yudichak, D-14, Nanticoke, will get a first chance to question the administration’s spending plan. Reps. Mario Scavello, R-176, Mount Pocono, Tina Pickett, R-110, Towanda, and Mike Peifer, R-139, Honesdale, sit on the House appropriations panel.

The appropriations hearings won’t be the only place where the budget is examined.

The House Democratic Policy Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the administration’s plans to reduce spending by the state Department of Public Welfare.

United Way plans a series of budget forums across the state, starting March 8-9 in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.

The House and Senate will introduce their own budget bills in the weeks leading up to the budget passage deadline on June 30.

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