Gov. Tom Corbett focused heavily on education, job creation and health care in his 2014-15 budget proposal Tuesday, and area lawmakers chimed in on where they come down on the issues.
State Reps. Matt Baker, R-Wellsboro, and Garth Everett, R-Muncy, emphasized the $29.4 billion proposal is just that - a blueprint, subject to intense scrutiny and debate over the coming months.
It raises overall state spending by 3.3 percent, Baker said, with a projected $1 billion revenue deficit. Everett, who's on the House Appropriations Committee, noted the reason it won't be passed until June is that revenue projections won't firm up until shortly before then.
Gov. Tom Corbett delivers his budget address for the 2014-15 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Tuesday in Harrisburg.
Everett said since the recession, "There's a lot of heavy lifting to make this (budget process) work," particularly as many of Corbett's proposals require Legislative action, such as pension and state liquor reform.
Everett called liquor privatization "possible," but stalled in the Senate. State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, said he favors liquor modernization (where and how it's sold), but not an overhaul of the state system.
Further, Corbett put pension reform in the Legislature's hands, Everett said, calling for proposals to be passed. Yaw said if nothing is done to fix it long-term, "It's going to eat us alive."
By The Associated Press
Highlights of Gov. Tom Corbett's spending blueprint for the 2014-15 year that starts July 1:
THE BIG PICTURE
Increases overall state spending by nearly 3.7 percent to $29.4 billion from the current year's approved budget.
Generates $30.3 billion through taxes, fees and other revenue sources, an increase of 4 percent.
Contains no new taxes, but Corbett signed two major new revenue sources approved late last year - higher fuel taxes and motor-vehicle fees to finance transportation work and the legalization of small games of chance - and they will be in effect for their first full year.
Continues to phase out the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, which was targeted for elimination this year but is now slated to expire in 2016.
Reduces the time period in which unclaimed property must be held by outside institutions from five years to three, generating $150 million in one-time revenue.
Calls for the extraction of natural gas from beneath state-owned parks and forests through drilling on private, adjacent lands that does not require any surface impact on public lands, generating $75 million in immediate revenue and additional future royalties.
Combines $240 million in new money with the current funding for the decade-old Accountability Block Grant program to create a proposed $340 million Ready to Learn block grant program that will provide a menu of options that guide school districts on how they can use the money.
Provides $25 million through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency for new merit-based Ready to Succeed scholarships for students pursuing two- or four-year post-secondary degrees.
Eliminates a provision that allows charter schools to collect double payments for employees' pension costs, saving more than $62 million.
Increases special education funding by $20 million.
Increases spending on early-childhood education by $10 million, providing access to pre-school programs for nearly 1,700 additional children.
A $10 million increase for a "hybrid learning" program that encourages educators to apply technology to improve student performance, allowing an additional 100 schools to participate.
A $500,000 increase for public libraries.
A $5 million increase for PA First to expand job training and other activities that help businesses seeking to relocate or expand in the state.
Injects an additional $1 million into a $5 million Targeted Industry Program, which provides grants to students seeking certification in high-demand industry such as energy, diversified manufacturing and food production.
A $1 million increase in state funding that will leverage nearly $4 million in federal money to expand on-the-job training for young people with disabilities through the state Labor and Industry Department.
A $500,000 increase for the Partnership for Regional Economic Performance to expand technical consulting to manufacturers seeking to move their overseas operations to Pennsylvania.
Reduces an anticipated $610 million increase in the state's share of pension costs for state and school employees by postponing some immediate payments while reducing benefits for future public employees to cover that cost. It is expected to save the state $170 million and school districts $130 million.
Transfers $225 million in private equity investments and cash reserves from the Tobacco Settlement Fund and Health Venture Investment account to the school employees' pension fund to help reduce the state's pension obligations.
HEALTH CARE/SOCIAL SERVICES
Projects $125 million in savings next year from changes to the state's Medicaid program that still require federal approval.
Doubles funding for the community-based Health Care program, providing $4 million for four new facilities.
A $4 million increase to recruit and retain physicians, dentists and other health-care professionals in rural parts of the state by repaying their education loans.
A $45 million increase to repair and improve state parks and forests.
Nearly $14 million to finance four new Pennsylvania State Police cadet classes and 350 new troopers.
Nearly $10 million to provide a single access point to collect, coordinate and report child abuse and neglect cases.
An increase of $1.4 million, or 10 percent, for domestic violence programs.
Sources: Corbett administration, 2014-15 state budget documents.
Corbett's economic comments harkened back to his energy plan, Energy Equals Jobs, Yaw said, and Corbett showcased Williamsport as an example of the difference natural gas jobs can make to an area.
"(This is) proof of the gas industry and what can happen, and the jobs it will produce," Yaw said.
Much, however, depends on the state's economic climate, regarding Corbett's projections. "If we have a lot of jobs and business is good, I think all these projections will fall into place; if business is not good, we'll have additional problems," Yaw said.
Baker said as House health chairman, he was "happy to see some health care initiatives funded." He authored a 2011 bill to update Pennsylvania's Family Caregiver Support Program to include non-relative caregivers and bring the state program in line with its federal counterpart. As such, he was pleased to see $24 million in the budget for home- and community-based services for 1,250 people with intellectual disabilities and autism.
Baker called the $363 million increase to pre-K through 12th-grade funding the "best news" of the budget, saying it's the most state funding for it in state history, bringing the total to $10.3 billion.
However, state Rep. Michael K. Hanna Sr., D-Lock Haven, said while that's a great place to start, he was cautionary toward Corbett's plan to provide $25 million through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency for new merit-based Ready to Succeed scholarships for middle-income students pursuing two- or four-year post-secondary degrees.
"PHEAA, because of the way they allocate dollars in grants, the lion's share of money goes to students going to private schools based on tuition sticker prices," Hanna said. " ... In private schools, very few students pay the sticker price." Hanna proposes to base it on actual prices students pay, not the sticker price.
With this budget, "As PHEAA does slant toward students going to private schools, we have to be careful this ($25 million) doesn't carry the same bias," Hanna said.
Plus, higher education received flat funding, which concerned state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport. "My concern is by not focusing on higher education, we're not creating a pathway for people out of these $8-an-hour jobs," Mirabito said.
The most glaring absence was on the soaring flood insurance rates due to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, Mirabito said.
"I didn't expect a huge amount or a plan to solve it, but I was concerned I didn't hear any mention of it at all because it obviously has become a big concern to people," Mirabito said.
Regarding revenue, Mirabito said Corbett "missed an opportunity to raise revenue in a reasonable way." Mirabito advocates a tax on smokeless tobacco and cigars, and a natural gas drilling severance tax. He took issue with Corbett calling this a no-tax-hike budget, as he passed the transportation bill with what Mirabito calls "the largest gasoline taxes in the country."
Further, Mirabito claimed Corbett is "spending three times more in the overall state budget than was spent in the three prior years combined," based on the total operating budget, not just general fund.
With the coming months of debate, "All of this is yet to be determined," Everett said.