May 2011 Column - House Budget Shifts Priorities from Welfare to Education
By Dave Hickernell, state representative
98th Legislative District
In a previous column, I discussed Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year and some of my concerns with his proposal. While I have some concerns about the governor’s spending plan, I agree that we must spend less because we have less to spend. The governor’s plan to spend $27.3 billion, a reduction of $866.3 million from last year, is a good step in that direction.
Recently, the House of Representatives passed our budget plan for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Like the governor’s plan, the House budget is a recognition of the fact that Pennsylvania cannot continue spending money we do not have. While it maintains the $27.3 billion spending level set by the governor, the House budget sets different priorities for how those funds are spent.
Like the governor’s plan, the House budget does not contain any new taxes, tax increases or new borrowing. While our economy is beginning to recover from the economic recession, a tax increase on Pennsylvania families and job creators could slow or even halt that progress. We need to foster an economic climate that makes employers feel comfortable hiring again and we need to help families to keep more of what they earn. The House budget plan will make that possible.
The House budget reduces funding for the Department of Public Welfare (DPW). Pennsylvania’s welfare system is in serious need of reform. Recent audits have highlighted millions of dollars of fraud and abuse in DPW. As we look for ways to economize and get the most from the taxpayer dollars we spend, eliminating this fraud and abuse must be a top priority. It is important to note, however, that our plan still provides $10.7 billion to the department to ensure that those who are truly in need can continue receiving assistance.
The House budget plan also increases education funding by $210 million over the governor’s plan. While I appreciate the need to reduce state spending, we must take steps to ensure that school districts are not forced to pass those reductions along to property taxpayers.
Even under our plan, school districts are going to have to take a careful look at their budgets and make some difficult decisions about how they spend taxpayer dollars. A large portion of school district budgets are spent complying with state mandates. That is why I support efforts to reform the school code to free school districts from those mandates which drive up costs and result in property tax increases.
The House plan also increases higher education funding by $380 million over the governor’s proposal. Funding schools in the State System of Higher Education, like Millersville University, is increased by $195 million and funding for state-related universities is increased by $180 million.
Finally, the House budget plan restores more than $55 million in funding for hospitals and human services including obstetric and neonatal services, critical care hospitals, state-related academic medical centers, physician practice plans, trauma centers, burn centers, and the Human Service Development Fund.
The final state budget will most likely look different than the governor’s plan or the House plan. However, now that my House colleagues and I have set our priorities, we are in a good position to begin negotiations. I look forward to working with the Senate and the governor’s office to develop a plan that will allow us to meet our spending priorities without additional borrowing or tax increases on Pennsylvania families.
State Representative Dave Hickernell
98th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Sean Yeakle