Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG – Making good on his promise not to raise taxes, Gov. Tom Corbett has released a $27.3 billion budget, slashing $866 million out of current spending through cuts in virtually every spending area.
Public schools, state-related universities and the Department of Community and Economic Development took the biggest hits.
The spending plan cuts basic education funding from $9.9 billion to $9.1 billion. It calls for more school choice options, while asking districts to freeze teacher salaries and to eliminate salary bumps for those who earn master’s degrees.
The DCED budget, meanwhile, was slashed from $337.9 million to $223.6 million. Lawmakers are expected to put up a fight to have funding restored to that department, which has been a pass-through for what has become known as “walking-around-money” – grants for legislators’ pet projects.
Support for the four state-related universities, which include the University of Pittsburgh, was halved in the budget proposal. It calls for Pitt to get $80.2 million. This year’s budget provides Pitt with $160.5 million in state money plus $7.5 million in federal stimulus funds.
Penn State would see a similar cut, from the current year’s $333.9 million down to $165.1 million.
The Corbett budget also cuts funding in half for the State System of Higher Education, which includes 14 colleges. Funding is budgeted at $232.6 million, down from $465.2 million.
Mr. Corbett, meanwhile, wants to cut environmental protection funding from $147 million to $140 million, even as more and more energy companies are introducing chemicals into the ground as they drill for natural gas.
His budget is counting on $65 million out of the oil and gas leases fund. It is unclear how much of that would come from royalties – fees for gas produced from wells already operating on state land.
The budget provides for no additional leases on state forest land, alleviating concerns of environmental groups.
Meanwhile, the budget proposes to increase welfare funding by $607.7 million and health funding by $61.5 million. Military and Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, gets a $19.6 million boost, while state police get a $10 million increase and the Department of Revenue gets $8 million more.
The Corbett budget maintains a $60 million in film production tax credits, the same level as in the current budget. Film industry officials had said that as many as four productions would have considered leaving the state if the tax credit program had ended.
Most line items, though, were decreased in an effort to hold the line on taxes.
“Central to maintaining fiscal discipline is recognizing that our citizens know best how to spend their own money and refraining from imposing any additional tax burdens,” according to a budget summary handed out to reporters this morning.
In a letter accompanying the summary Mr. Corbett said he aimed to protect public safety, maintain human services and reduce the side of government.
The budget, he wrote, “was crafted with honesty and restraint. Many historic programs that were not critical, [not] essential or did not have a statewide impact have been proposed for elimination. What remains is a more limited but vigorous government.”