Another year, another Pennsylvania budget with mostly static funding. For some conservatives, that means success. For some Democrats and those representing agencies that have seen increased needs but no additional funding, the 2013-14 budget is a failure.
But without a solution to skyrocketing pension costs or approval for additional revenue generators, funding was tight and the budget reflects that.
“I believe that this is a reasonable and responsible plan within the available revenues. It is consistent with previous efforts to control state spending, but there is also recognition that additional dollars are needed in key areas to avoid negative consequences for families and communities,” said state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, who voted in favor of the budget.
She cautioned that while there are obvious needs and wants, approving everything in a tough economic time is not the prudent path.
“It is easy to find places where we wish more money could be directed,” she said.
“There is still a need to be careful with the overall spending level because of anticipated added costs next year and beyond,” said Baker, later adding, “This budget is not a solution for all our challenges and problems, but it will work to improve our fiscal and economic situations, and that represents progress.”
Yudichak voted for budget
That “economic climate” was also cited by Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, who praised many facets of the budget, which passed the Senate 33-17. He was one of just a handful of Democrats to vote in favor of the budget.
“The reality is, in this economic climate, no state budget can adequately fund all state priorities, but this spending plan does get it right in a number of areas critically important to the residents of my district in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Yudichak.
In the House, which approved the measure Sunday, the 111-92 tally was done with a strict party-line vote.
Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, cited education funding as a key concern.
“Considering the continued lack of adequate funding for our state’s public schools as well as early childhood education and higher education, I could not support this budget,” he said.
Mundy: Revenue not tapped
Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, said there were many more reasons why she voted against the spending plan.
“There is revenue available, closing corporate tax loopholes and a natural gas extraction tax for example, that could prevent the inevitable property tax increases, the teacher layoffs and the harm being done to children in our public schools. While I disagree with many other items funded and not funded, that is my major disagreement with the budget we were asked to vote on,” Mundy said.
Some Democrats in the Senate, like Yudichak, crossed party lines to lend their support. Among them was Jay Costa, the party’s leader in the Senate.
Costa, from Allegheny County, said that while he has reservations about the budget plan, he was willing to support the $28.375 billion spending plan because it includes positive aspects.
“There are many things that I would do differently if Senate Democrats were crafting the plan — such as investing more in schools and job creation — but there are key elements in the plan that I support,” Costa said. “We can do better and we shouldn’t be satisfied, but we need to move the process and put a budget in place.”
Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald, said there were some portions of the budget that he agreed with and supports but the overall package wasn’t something he could vote for.
“There are several important line items in the budget that signal good news to Pennsylvanians but they are outweighed by investments that are not there or are insufficient,” said Blake, who voted against the bill Saturday.
Corbett’s priorities fail
Gov. Tom Corbett might have notched another budget signed by the June 30 deadline but he struck out on all three of his top priorities: liquor privatization, pension reform and transportation spending. It did not go unnoticed by Jim Burn, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party.
“Tom Corbett failed, and his failed leadership will continue to hurt the people of Pennsylvania. Tom Corbett could not lead his Republican-controlled chambers to pass his big three priorities even after he said that going 0 for 3 would not be acceptable,” Burn said. “Over the past two years, Tom Corbett’s budgets have reflected a massive failure of priorities and this budget is more of the same.”
Corbett took a different tact, touting increases to education, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, law enforcement, people with intellectual disabilities, rape victims and the PA First economic development program.
While education and other early childhood-related programs saw slight increases, the libraries that children flock to after school, on the weekends and throughout the summer, weren’t the recipient of any budget increases.
Richard Miller, the executive director of the Osterhout Free Library and the system administrator for the Luzerne County Library System, said the library expects to receive the same as it did the last three years from the state, $370,000.
He said that keeping the amount the same likely will mean no cuts to staff, programs or hours. But he also noted that the libraries were so deeply cut in 2009 that there wasn’t much meat left on the bones for any additional butchering.
Miller said the Osterhout received $522,000 from the state in 2009, that was dropped to $417,000 in 2010 and down to $370,000 annually from 2011 through next year.