Tuesday, May 10, 2011

House GOP: Shift Welfare Funds to Education

Pennsylvania House Republicans will unveil their $27.3 billion budget tomorrow. Their Democratic counterparts are already criticizing the plan, though.

According to GOP staffers, the proposal would cut about $500 million from the Department of Public Welfare’s budget. (Corbett wanted to increase DPW spending by $600 million, so the House GOP plan would give the department a slight increase over last year’s spending.) The Republican budget would use the money to partially restore education funding. State System of Higher Education schools would see their funding drop 15 percent, rather than Corbett’s proposed 50 percent cut. State-related schools – Penn State, Pitt, Lincoln and Temple -- would lose 25 percent of their state funding, rather than half. State basic education funding would increase $210 million, compared to Corbett’s plan, and the accountability block grant program, which many districts use to fund early childhood education efforts, would be restored to $100 million. (Corbett’s budget zeroed it out.)

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, who’s railed against Corbett’s budget for months, isn’t satisfied by the partial restorations, pointing out the Republican plan “still cuts education, basic education, by hundreds of millions of dollars.” He called the welfare-to-education shift “a false choice,” saying, “[Republicans] want us to make a choice between massive cuts to public schools and public universities, or devastating cuts to programs that provide care to seniors, seniors in nursing homes. Programs that protect children and adults with disabilities, and support our hospitals and trauma centers.”

House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin responded Republicans are simply eliminating money DPW is wasting, pointing to Democratic Auditor General Jack Wagner’s numerous studies pointing to wasted or misappropriated money within the department.

Instead of partially restoring education line items with DPW money, Dermody – and, it’s worth noting, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi -- wants Governor Corbett and House Republicans to tap Pennsylvania’s $505 million tax surplus. Corbett and the House GOP would rather set the money aside in a rainy day fund – Miskin argues the philosophy of spending every dollar of tax revenue is what got Pennsylvania into its current financial lurch to begin with.

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