Site updated 01/05/16 09:18 AM ©Upper Dauphin Sentinel
Gov. Wolf releases county and school
funding but not all of the budget
HARRISBURG • As 2016 begins, the now six-month state budget impasse continues without a full resolution.
Gov. Tom Wolf, Dec. 29, authorized the emergency release of taxpayer funds due counties and public schools for the past half-year. However, he also applied line-item vetoes to several other facets of the budget that were part of the proposal (House Bill 1460) approved by majority vote in the state Legislature before Christmas.
HB 1460 reportedly retained sales and income taxes at existing levels. An earlier ‘‘compromise’’ proposal negotiated between the governor and the legislative leadership faced opposition from House Republicans due to a sales tax hike from 6 to 6.5 percent as well as expanded taxes in other areas.
Supporters said HB1460 provides increased funding for both public schools and higher education, as well as more money for drug and alcohol, domestic violence/rape crisis, health and wellness and other human services programs. Wolf gave a different opinion.
“I’m vetoing the Republican plan to cut $95 million from education, and I’m also vetoing other items that (HB1460 doesn’t) pay for,” the governor said in a statement Dec. 29. “I’m calling on our legislators to get back to Harrisburg – back to the work they left unfinished (before Christmas).
‘‘At the same time, I’m allowing emergency funding for our schools to get out. I’m also letting funding go out to our human service agencies and to our counties. But this is on an emergency basis only.”
Wolf’s authorization released only monies due to counties and schools – as well as non-profit social service programs – from July 31 to Dec. 31.
Two Sentinel-area school districts – Williams Valley and Tri-Valley – confirmed that they already were taking steps to borrow money to cover missing funds.
Dauphin County officials confirmed that by the end of 2015, the state owed almost $30 million in aid for human services.
Budget ‘‘wrong for Pennsylvania.’’ Wolf disparaged the proposal sent to his desk, at one point calling it the ‘‘garbage the Republican legislative leaders have tried to dump on (citizens of the commonwealth) as well as “an exercise in stupidity.’’
‘‘This budget is wrong for Pennsylvania. And our legislators – the folks we elected to serve us – need to own up to this. They need to do their jobs,’’ Wolf said in his statement. ‘‘This budget is wrong for so many reasons, but especially because it does not balance, increases our deficit and fails to invest in our schools and our future,’’ he added.
‘‘The Republican’s failure to provide school construction funding to local school districts and the commonwealth’s inability to responsibly issue debt will lead to a direct cost to the school districts, which will wipe out any marginal funding increases for local school districts,’’ Wolf stated. ‘‘This means that their budget is an effective $95 million cut to school districts after years of cuts under previous Republican budgets.
GOP responds. The General Assembly sent House Bill 1460 to the governor’s desk on Dec. 24. Supporters said the spending plan funds state government’s core functions and supports Pennsylvania students by increasing education funding to the highest levels in the Commonwealth’s history – without the need for significant tax increases.
The bill sent to the governor was supported by Sentinel-area legislators Lynda Culver, Sue Helm and Mike Tobash (House); and David Argall and John Gordner (Senate). It was opposed by state Sen. Rob Teplitz, who had endorsed the previous compromise proposal.
State Rep. Sue Helm was among the legislators who countered Wolf's claims that he had been given an ‘‘irresponsible’’ budget.
“While I am pleased the governor finally released critically needed funding to our schools and human service organizations, I am disappointed he refused to sign the responsible budget compromise that we sent to him last week,’’ she said.
“His disparaging remarks about our efforts to reach a responsible budget that does not place a heavier burden on Pennsylvania taxpayers fails to move the process forward,’’ Helm stated in a press announcement.‘‘It is difficult to understand why he considers a $30.3 billion budget that increases education spending by $400 million without relying on broad-based tax increases to be ‘garbage.’
“Both sides need to now start anew and work together on reaching a budget solution that truly moves the Commonwealth forward, while keeping the interests of the state’s hard-working taxpayers in mind.”
The Senate GOP leadership – including Gordner, who serves as majority whip – also issued a statement as follows.
“We support the governor’s long-overdue decision to release emergency funding approved by the legislature to help schools and social service agencies. This is something we have been advocating for over many months and is exactly why we sent him a budget last week – to release money that has been collected and is being held by the state to schools and communities.
“We are glad that the Governor has acknowledged that his actions of full vetoes in the past have meant kids and community organizations have been held hostage by his refusal to release funding and that approach is no longer defensible. He could have used this line item veto months ago and avoided this crisis situation,’’ according to the statement.
“This action essentially resets the clock – giving us time to work toward a fiscally responsible spending plan without jeopardizing core government services.
“We have significant differences with this Governor and his calls for increased taxes and spending, and we need to sit down and work through them,’’ the GOP leadership said. ‘‘We have been negotiating in good faith with him, which is why we are disappointed that he used words like ‘garbage’ and ‘exercise in stupidity’ in his statement. This kind of name-calling and blaming is not necessary or productive as we work toward compromise.
“Now the Governor must demonstrate leadership to get a complete budget passed. The Senate has approved three budget proposals already, and because of his latest line-item vetoes will need to produce a fourth. It’s long past time for the Administration to embrace and work toward the compromise needed to enact a fiscally responsible state budget. We remain committed to achieving that goal,’’ the leadership said.