Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Budget Hearings Put Corbett Proposal to the Test

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA 

HARRISBURG, Pa. - On the heels of Gov. Tom Corbett's just-released spending plan, budget hearings are under way in Harrisburg, a process that sets the stage for how the Commonwealth spends money in the upcoming fiscal year.

A lot is at stake for Pennsylvanians, said Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, adding that the prominent question is whether the Corbett proposal gets the job done. She said one of the important elements to watch is the governor's call for more corporate tax cuts.

"We've put into place about a billion dollars worth of tax cuts over the past four years,” she said, “and those tax cuts make it harder for the state to pay for education, help for children with disabilities and other improvements over the long haul."

Ward warned that the proposal relies too heavily on “one-time” funding sources and uncertain savings projections.

"But when you're talking about public education or health care, you really shouldn't hold your budget together with Scotch tape and string,” she said, “and that's the budget that we have this year."

Moving forward, she said, steps can be taken to bolster the spending plan and help Pennsylvania gain some traction in terms of job growth and a healthier bottom line.

"There's another tax cut that's scheduled; that one has to be delayed because it's simply unaffordable,” she said. “The state can also take advantage of expanding Medicaid and the federal dollars that will come along with that."

Ward noted that Corbett requests an additional $241 million for a "Ready to Learn" block grant but recommends no increase for basic education funding. The budget proposal also makes changes that will increase the state's pension debt and delay a $394 million payment to Medicaid managed care.

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