Gov. Tom Corbett released his 2012-13 state budget that immediately drew either applause or gnashing of teeth depending on which side of the aisle legislators reside.
The governor released his $27.14 billion budget proposal Tuesday that would keep spending in line with last year’s budget that slashed a billion dollars from public education and welfare programs. However, public universities such as Pitt and Penn State face even larger reductions in funding from the state this year.
The budget does not include any tax or fee increases, but also does not address transportation issues that include crumbling infrastructure and mass transit funding problems.
Corbett, a Republican who was elected in 2010, is unlikely to have much trouble pushing the budget through both Republican-controlled chambers of the General Assembly. However, Democrats said they would challenge the governor’s budget that they say continues the cuts that Corbett’s administration began last year.
Fontana said the new budget is just more of the same from the Corbett administration, which he called “misguided and out-of-touch.”
“Less than a week after we celebrated Groundhog Day, Pennsylvanians had a ‘Groundhog Day’ moment of another kind as Governor Corbett outlined his 2012-13 state budget (Tuesday),” Fontana said. “Apparently, the governor wants a repeat of last year’s budget, which means more painful cuts, no direct job creation funding and no concern for ensuring that wealthy corporations pay their fair share.”
Fontana said the budget fails to close tax loopholes and likely will force school districts to raise taxes on property owners.
“Although there will be no state tax increases, school districts will once again be forced to slash programs and lay off more educators,” Fontana said. “This essentially will force school districts to make up the differences through property tax hikes.
Smith said he is concerned about not properly investing in higher education, which he thinks is crucial to attracting and retaining young people to the state.
“After last year’s cuts to investment in early childhood education through higher education, this budget is full of more of the same, slashing deeper into our public education system,” Smith said.
He said he wants to work with both parties to find “practical solutions” to preserve key investment areas. Smith said he hopes to find common ground so the middle class is not hurt by the budget decisions.
“I have long supported cost-saving reforms like reducing the size of the legislature and recognize the need to cut waste and reduce spending in a thoughtful and responsible way,” Smith said. “I was hopeful that the governor’s budget would reflect a thoughtful, middle of the road approach that reduced spending in certain areas while maintaining investment in areas crucial to our success such as community colleges and early childhood education.”
Mustio said he expects there to be much debate on the budget because of declining revenues while trying to keep expenses the same.
“As a member of the Appropriations Committee we will have hearings to dissect the proposed budget in great detail,” Mustio said. “The challenges will be similar to last year. Those are declining revenues and increasing expenses.”
But he added there needs to be a solution to fund transportation needs across the state. However, the governor previously said any solution should be debated outside normal budget negotiations.
“In addition to the budget it is critical that we address our transportation infrastructure,” Mustio said.
Kotik said he stills reviewing the budget but has similar complaints to last year’s spending plan.
“It’s another disaster,” Kotik said. “It’s like Robin Hood in reverse. It takes from the groups least able to help themselves and uses the Department of Welfare as a whipping boy. It’s just a bad budget all the way around.”
He questioned why there are major reductions to the tourism budget that would seem to be a major revenue source for the state. Ultimately, Kotik doubted there is much Democrats can do to stop the current proposal from passing.
“They have it in their agenda and they’re going to ram it through,” he said. “They’re going have to go with their governor.”
Metcalfe called the new budget “$1 billion short in overdue welfare spending cuts” and said legislators must examine each state agency’s “obese budgets,” specifically public welfare.
“The governor needs to exchange his butter knife for a meat cleaver and cut even more wasteful and excessive welfare spending,” Metcalfe said.
Metcalfe said reducing the welfare budget by 10 percent would save taxpayers more than $1 billion.
“The Legislature has already taken the first steps to facilitate policies to crack down on fraud in the system and end the ‘close your eyes and authorize’ policies of the Department of Public Welfare,” he said. “The way to grow our economy is not on the backs of taxpayers but through reducing the taxpayers’ burden.”
Turzai said the dire predictions from last year never came to be and added that this budget proposes a small increase to basic education.
“Let’s be honest. The days of endless spending are definitely over, but we are still climbing out of the mess created by the previous administration, where spending increased about 40 percent and inflation grew only 21 percent,” Turzai said. “We have brought fiscal discipline to the table.”
Although, the House Majority Leader acknowledged the budget “limits the growth” in welfare spending, he pointed to money allocated for 115 new state police cadets.
“For the first time, in many years, we are living within our revenues,” Turzai said. “This proposal is just the beginning, but it sets a tone. No tax increases, no reckless borrowing and responsible priorities.”
Dermody, the House Democratic Leader, said the 2012-13 state budget proposal is "Year 2 of the Corbett Property Tax Hike Agenda."
"This is a budget, like last year, that passes millions of dollars in costs on to the local governments and school districts,” Dermody said. “Those costs are piled on top of the costs that were shifted in that direction in the last budget. Make no mistake about it: This is not a no-tax-increase budget."
Dermody said expenses have been shifted to middle-class homeowners and senior citizens because cuts to public schools last year resulted in property tax hikes in school districts across the state.
"Once again we are getting a budget that cuts education, and does little to address the job crisis in Pennsylvania," Dermody said on the House floor. "Despite the administration’s assurances, we still have not seen a comprehensive plan to address the transportation funding gap.
Kortz called the budget disappointing and said the governor is once again taking a “metaphorical sledgehammer” to education.
"The equity funding formula is still cut, and that is putting poorer school districts at a severe disadvantage,” Kortz said. “This year's proposal further deprives Pennsylvania students by cutting higher education, guaranteeing more tuition hikes and putting college out of reach for many of our hard-working, middle-class families."
He added that the budget does not close tax loopholes and puts the burden on working families.
“We’re looking at a state budget designed to inflict more pain on our taxpayers,” he said. “Governor Corbett did not close off any of the tax loopholes that exist. Yet, he is phasing out the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax. This plan is completely structured for business and hurts the people of Pennsylvania."
Neuman lamented the "very generic" terms in which the governor spoke.
"It was hard to tell what his goals are for the budget," Neuman said.
He said the address seemed to hint at further cuts in higher education, and questions loomed about how public school funding will be handled—a major concern for the lawmaker.
"The main thing we need to focus on is that the money going toward our schools goes toward educating our students," Neuman said. "Funding our schools and at the same time lessening the burden of property taxes on our residents in Washington County should be a priority."
Editor's Note: and state Rep. John Maher did not return calls for comment. View the full budget proposal here.