Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Corbett Cuts About $1 Billion From Budget

At first glance, it looks like education will be the big topic in Governor Corbett’s budget address, which has just gotten underway in Harrisburg.

Corbett’s $27 billion spending plan cuts about a billion dollars from the current budget. The Republican wants to fill a $4.1 billion dollar structural deficit with across-the-board cuts, including $656 million from higher education funding, and a $500 million drop from the current $5.7 billion state subsidy to school districts. Corbett’s budget secretary, Charles Zogby, called the fund’s 5 to 6 percent rate of growth under the Rendell Administration “unsustainable.” (Though it’s an overall reduction, the $5.2 billion would be an increase over the amount of state dollars devoted to the subsidy, since last year’s amount included more than $600 million in federal stimulus money.)

Outside of the dollars and cents, Corbett will push for a host of education reforms, including a school vouchers program and merit-based pay systems for teachers. Corbett also wants to initiative tenure reform. A briefing package says the Republican will ask the General Assembly to “review benchmarks that measure long-term teacher effectiveness and implement a permanent rating system.”

Corbett will also push to eliminate state funding for automatic salary bumps given to teachers and administrators who earn masters’ degrees, and end tuition reimbursements for educators seeking degrees. “Masters degrees make no difference in terms of student achievement in the classroom,” said Zogby in a morning briefing.

Finally – and this is a big kicker -- Corbett will urge every public school teacher and administrator to take a one-year salary freeze. The Administration estimates this would save $400 million next year.

Other proposed reductions include $114 million from the Department of Community and Economic Development. State Parks funding drops from $47 to $28 million, under Corbett’s plan, and money designated for tourism promotion goes from $11 to $3 million, among other cuts. Overall, 19 state departments would see their budgets reduced, while four would receive level funding.

Health, Corrections and Treasury are among the 12 departments or agencies slated for increases. The State Police Department would receive about 10 million dollars more than last year.

The budget eliminates 103 line items; administration officials estimate it would eliminate 1,500 public employee jobs.

Listen to Scott Detrow's wrap up of the budget and reaction to it here.

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