About three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s 4.2 billion dollar deficit comes from disappearing federal stimulus money.
Governor Corbett and his top staffers say the Rendell Administration should have spent the money more wisely, and avoided using it to beef up education funding and other line items. “If you were told again and again that this was a funding cliff coming in two years, and you were advised not to make an expenditure that’s going to lock you in for five, ten years down the road, it does matter,” said acting Education Secretary Ron Tomalis this week, when he defended the Corbett Administration’s decision to not replace more than $500 million in federal education funds.
“[Rendell] didn’t do transportation, as a result, we have a crisis in the bridges right now,” said Corbett on Wednesday, responding to a study ranking Pennsylvania tops in the nation for structurally deficient bridges. “We spent stimulus money – stimulus money that was put in to balance the budget last year and the year before, a total, if I remember the numbers correctly, a little over $500 million went to education for one year. That's long-term debt. It didn't go to rebuilding the bridges. That was a choice that he made. I don't agree with that choice."
How do former Rendell staffers feel about the stimulus criticism? “The new governor ought to take some time to read the stimulus bill,” said former policy secretary Donna Cooper. “None of the funds that were available to the commonwealth for education could have been used for any purpose other than education. And they had to be used in the fiscal years in which we used it, or we would have had to return that money to the federal government.”
Rendell backed her up on that fact. “We had to use the education money for education. We had to use the bridge and road money for infrastructure, for bridges and roads. And then the mass transit money for mass transit, the energy money for energy. That’s how the stimulus was designed. We didn’t have any option,” he said Wednesday.
Cooper pointed out Rendell urged lawmakers to create a “Stimulus Reserve Fund,” to prepare for the disappearing money. “We urged the legislature to impose a severance tax, to tax smokeless tobacco, and to broaden the sales tax base so that we would be able to generate sufficient state revenues, so the cliff would not be addressed by cuts, but the cliff would be addressed by state revenues,” she said.
The proposal, mocked by some as “the sterf,” never got off the ground.