By John Finnerty
The state House on a straight party-line voted 108-92 on Wednesday to approve a $28.3 billion budget that would spend $100 million less than the budget proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett.
Neither the governor’s plan nor the House plan would include any tax increases. The House plan will certainly be changed in final budget negotiations later in the month, but the debate provided lawmakers with an opportunity to weigh in on an issue that has been largely overlooked in recent months — school spending.
“This budget represents an increase in spending from last year’s budget of almost $600 million,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. “It spends almost $10 billion on public education, pre-K through grade 12.”
Democrats argue that reduced spending on education will trickle down and force local schools to raise property taxes.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny County, countered that the spending plan is a “skewed budget” that “protects tax breaks for the wealthiest companies in the world while the middle-class suffers from property tax increases.”
Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer County, said the state is spending more on basic education funding than ever before. But that does not mean the state is spending more on education in some of the areas where schools need help the most, he said.
In the 2011-12 budget cycle, the state completely eliminated five grant or reimbursement programs and dramatically cut funding for accountability block grants. When those grant programs are counted, the state is proposing to spend less than it did in 2008-09.
Those grant pots included dollars intended to pay for tutoring, to help failing schools and to offset the costs of charter school tuition. The accountability block grants are most often used to pay for kindergarten, Longietti said.
Rep. William Adolph, R-Delaware County and chairman of the House appropriations committee, said that Democrats are playing “a game of smoke and mirrors” with education funding.
When all the education dollars are counted, including money for community colleges, other institutions of higher education, the state is spending more than it did in the last budget passed in the term of Corbett’s predecessor Democrat Ed Rendell, said Republican state Rep. Brad Roae of Crawford County.
“The grand total of all of these 39 line items in the education part of the budget is $675 million more than they were in the 2010-2011 budget,” Roae said. “Some specific line items are higher, some are lower, and some no longer exist. But the total amount is $675 million more.”
Republican state Rep. Greg Lucas of Crawford and Erie counties believes the budget bill “would provide the largest investment of state dollars for education in the commonwealth’s history.”
“This budget bill represents our commitment to stand by our students.” Lucas said, adding that funding for state universities such as Edinboro University would remain at current levels. “The budget would honor our commitments to students, professors and the Edinboro University community without further burdening Pennsylvania taxpayers.”
Key budget votes
Bid to use $23 million from an information technology account to increase the state subsidy for community colleges, which failed 90-108.
Michele Brooks, R-Crawford County — No
Greg Lucas, R-Crawford County — No
Brad Roae, R-Crawford County — No
Bid to suspend the rules so that the House could consider a budget amendment that would allow for Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania, which failed 91-108.
Brooks — No
Lucas — No
Roae — No
Motion to approve the House GOP $28.3 billion budget, passed 108-92.
Brooks — Yes
Lucas — Yes
Roae — Yes