Crafting the 2017-18 PA State Budget

Answering Your Questions About the PA House Republican Budget Plan

1.    Why are you moving a budget in April?

Too often the General Assembly waits till the end of June to rush towards the finish line.  By starting now with a balanced and sensible spending plan we can work to ensure the passage of an on-time budget.  This early start will also increase transparency with the public by allowing greater review of the budget plan.

2.    Have the House Democrats, the Senate, or the Administration been briefed on this budget proposal?

This budget incorporates many of the proposals offered up by Governor Wolf and funds priorities, such as education, that are important to members on both sides of the aisle.

3.    Do you believe you will have any bi-partisan support for this budget?

It is our hope that our Democratic colleagues will see that this budget incorporates many of the Wolf budget proposals, which includes increases for education, and does not include any new taxes.  These are things we know many of our Democratic colleagues are interested in and we hope they will support this budget.

4.    By moving this budget now, does this mean that you have stopped talking to the Administration and intend to put a Republican only budget on the governor’s desk?

We continue to talk to the Senate and to the Administration.  This budget is a balanced and sensible approach that protects taxpayers while still making key investments in education.  We will be advocating for this budget as it makes its way through the legislature. 

5.    Is this budget balanced?

Yes, this budget is balanced.

6.    The governor’s budget included $1 billion in new taxes and some borrowing proposals to close the structural deficit.  In your budget you are proposing no new taxes and no borrowing?  How then did you balance the budget?

The House has passed gaming expansion and liquor reforms multiple times and we believe these are viable revenue sources.  This combined with tax credit reductions, cuts to grant line-items and administrative line-items, savings initiatives and lowering the Wolf spend number will lead to a balanced budget.  By moving a balanced budget in April we can begin a fuller conversation on which of the House proposals will be acceptable to the governor and to the Senate.

7.    One of the main themes you have been talking about this year has been the need to restructure government.  What in this budget actually accomplishes your goal of restructuring government?

The process to restructure government is a multi-year endeavor and this budget proposal is a strong step in that direction.  The budget merges the Departments of Human Services, Health, Drug & Alcohol and Aging into one Department.  The Department of Corrections and Probation & Parole are also combined.  Many grant line items and administrative line-items are eliminated.  We are seeking to rebalance state and local funding to ensure that local government entities are paying their fair share.  We are also working to redesign ways that services are provided to ensure that they are being delivered in a cost efficient manner.

8.    What cuts are part of this budget?

First, this budget proposal accepted many of the cuts that were part of the Wolf budget proposal.  Fifty three percent of the reductions in this budget are from the Wolf budget proposal.  Second, on average this budget reduced most line items by 6.5% with the notable exceptions of education funding.  We believe in leading by example which is why the Legislature was also reduced by 6.5%.  To solve this budget deficit will require hard choices.  That is what we have done in this budget. 

9.    How many layoffs do you anticipate with this budget?

Many of the reductions in this budget reflect the governor’s proposal.  We are hoping that through natural attrition and elimination of vacancy funding that there won’t be the need for layoffs.  But as part of our strategy to reinvent government we must be willing to adjust employment levels to a sustainable level.  It should also be noted that nearly all of these agencies are carrying a prior year balance.  This shows there is room for reductions without the need to lay people off.

10.    In the Department of Corrections there is $130 million in cuts to the State Correctional Institutions.  How can you guarantee the safety of Pennsylvanians with these cuts?   Will prisoners need to be released early?

Public safety is a priority for the Republican Caucus.  There will be no early releases from this reduction.  This budget reflects the Department’s decision to close SCI Pittsburgh.  We believe that the Department has the ability to further reduce costs.  The IFO recently did a report on performance measures for the Department of Corrections and it clearly shows reform is necessary.  In five years our average cost per prisoner has risen 34%.  And if we look at a state like Ohio we can see that our cost per inmate of $50,098 is significantly higher than their cost of $34,737 per inmate.  This budget will put pressure on the Department of Corrections to innovate and make needed changes.

11.    Your investment in PreK Counts and Headstart is $45 million and $5 million respectively less than Governor Wolf’s proposal.  What impact will this reduction have on expanding PreK education?

It is important to remember that our budget adds $20 million for PreK Counts and $5 million for Headstart to bring the total investment between these two line-items to $221 million.  This budget prioritizes education and will mean that an additional 3,360 children will now have access to PreK programs.  The governor’s number was impractical and many PreK advocates expressed doubts about the ability to actually add as many PreK slots as the governor wanted even with added funding.

12.    This budget eliminates the Safe School Initiative.  Don’t you worry that this will put Pennsylvania students at risk?

Everyone values a safe learning environment for our children.  The Safe Schools Initiative is a grant program that does not evenly distribute funding to all school districts.  This budget prioritizes school funding in areas such as Basic Education Funding so that all school districts have equal access to needed resources to provide a safe and quality education to our children.

13.    We’ve heard the Attorney General say that the cuts to his agency will jeopardize public safety.  What is your response to this?

The reductions to the Office of Attorney General will not impact the ability of the AG to protect Pennsylvania citizens.  This budget still provides the necessary resources to the Attorney General. 

14.    Your budget proposal will eliminate the $5 million that goes to Harrisburg for Capitol Fire Protection.  Won’t this jeopardize the city’s ability to provide emergency service care?

Last year the City of Harrisburg raised the Local Services Tax from $52 per year to $156 per year.  This 200% increase in the LST means that state workers are paying more than their fair share for emergency services.

15.    In the governor’s proposal there is $10 million for access to Naloxone to help local EMS organization respond to opioid overdoses.  Your budget proposal only provides $1 million?  What impact will that reduction have?

The Republican Caucus has worked hand in hand with the governor in trying to battle the opioid crisis.  This budget adds $5 million for the treatment of opioid abuse as well as $1 million to provide naloxone to local EMS providers.  In addition to this new funding, we are committed to creating new policies to prevent opioid abuse building on our work from last session.

16.    We’ve heard repeatedly from the Department of Environmental Protection about the challenges they are having as a result of reduced funding to meet their statutory responsibilities to protect the environment.  Your budget proposal reduces the DEP’s budget by $9 million.  How can the department function under such restraints?

This budget requires a lot of tough choices and we believe that the DEP’s ability to utilize restricted account funds will allow the Department to continue to meet their mandate of protecting our beautiful Pennsylvania environment.

17.    This budget shows large reductions to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, specifically for State Park Operations.  How can our beautiful Pennsylvania parks continue to be maintained with these large cuts?

These costs will be paid out by a new Endowment Account.  The governor’s proposal used bonds to pay for these line-items which would’ve meant more debt.  Our proposal will create a sustainable funding stream for the Endowment Account which will save Pennsylvanians’ millions in debt payments.

18.    This budget has a $50 million reduction to Pupil Transportation.  How are school districts supposed to manage transportation costs with this large reduction?

This reduction is a reflection of the governor’s proposal.  The Administration has stated they don’t believe this will impact the ability of school districts to transport children to and from school.  We are still waiting to see the formula changes that the Administration is seeking for Pupil Transportation.

19.    There are large reductions to Child Care Services and Child Care Assistance in your budget.   How are poor working families supposed to make up this difference?

The reductions to these line items reflects our desire to reduce the bloated administrative costs of these programs.  We believe these reductions shouldn’t create an impact on the number of children served.

20.    This budget cuts funding for important items like Regional Poison Control Centers, Lupus, Epilepsy, ALS, and others.  How are patients supposed to access quality care without these services?

Once again these reductions are a reflection of the governor’s proposal. 

21.    In the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs there is a $2 million reduction to Veterans Homes.  What impact will this have on our veterans?

This reduction reflects the governor’s proposal.  The governor believes that greater efficiencies will allow DMVA to provide the same level of service to our veterans with a reduced appropriation.

22.    This budget eliminates funding for Senior Judges and Court Interpreter Grants.  Are counties going to be expected to make up this difference?

This budget seeks to rebalance the costs that are born by the state for local services.  This reduction reflects that.  Additionally with Judges now being able to serve full-time to age 75 the need for Senior Judges should decline.