Pennsylvania budget proposal has potential to affect education

Aaron Jaffe
Advertising Manager

The Pennsylvania government’s operating budget for 2015/2016, which is regularly voted and confirmed by July 1, is still in debates today. The main opponents in this decision are the Pa republican controlled Senate and newly elected Governor, Tom Wolf. This is Wolf’s first budget since he assumed office in January 2015.

Governor Wolf’s original budget proposal has not changed and he has vetoed the proposal sent to him by the Senate on June 30 due to the severe differences included in both proposals.

Specifically, the Republican-crafted budget didn’t include the Wolf’s proposals to significantly increase education funding and provide relief from local property taxes by raising the sales and personal income taxes and imposing a severance tax on natural gas drilling.

Harrisburg Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of pacapitol.org)
Harrisburg Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of pacapitol.org)

Though the legislative leaders and Wolf have been meeting behind closed doors to come to an agreement, there is no sign of a resolution on the horizon.

The main issues between the Governor and the legislation is surrounding Wolf’s push for more funding to education, the republican’s change in the pension plan for state employees, and liquor and property tax reform.

“We’re very concerned,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D). “There are no actuarial notes [on the pension proposal]. For all we know it could be a bad deal for taxpayers.”

Since the budget has been held off this long, human services and other government-funded organizations have been more strained. This includes state-system schools such as Millersville University and West Chester University.

Each PASSHE school’s budget is funded just under 20 percent by the state. This means that PASSHE schools may be cutting back on programs or development opportunities due to running on only 80 percent of their normal budget.

Millersville’s President, Dr. John Anderson, say that if the budget is not passed that “it shouldn’t affect our students at all this semester.” However, if the budget is not passed by the spring 2016 semester, the University will be experiencing cash flow issues. The lack of budget is not solely affecting Millersville though. It has also halted the release of state grants to students that rely on them to pay for college.

The United Way of Pennsylvania reported that about half of the human service providers it surveyed recently said they have had cash-flow problems since mid-August, with another 25 percent expecting problems in mid-September.

Mr. Reed, the Senate Majority Leader (R), said, “This gets us to the point where we could hopefully get to a final budget in a foreseeable future,” he said to reporters last month.

“Because if not, we’re going to have to start looking at items like line item veto overrides, stopgap budgets, that type of stuff, because schools are going to be running out of money, human services are going to be running out of money, so if we can get this in acceptance fairly quickly, we can get on and finish this budget impasse once and for all.”

The Senate will be back in session in mid-September, and the GOP say if there is no foreseeable agreements in their talks with the Governor, they will pass a stopgap budget plan to save counties and other nonprofit organizations that act as safety net services to the public.

“If there is no end in sight for the budget being done in the short term, then we will go to what options are available to send a stopgap budget to the governor to fund important services,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.

Kelsey Bundra also contributed to this article.