Surplus Clouds Pa. Budget Debate
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
The problem in Pennsylvania is that the state faces an estimated $4.2 billion budget gap in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, that led Corbett to present a spending plan full of cuts. At the same time, rebounding tax collections have technically given the state a surplus for the current fiscal year, which runs until June 30. The seeming contradiction has muddied the narrative behind Corbett's budget, and particularly its cuts to higher education.
Corbett wants to use the better-than-anticipated revenues from the current fiscal year to build up the state's rainy day fund or to pay down some of the state's debt.
But his fellow Republicans, who control both chambers in the General Assembly, are hearing from constituents about a proposed 54-percent cut to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which includes 14 universities, as well as smaller cuts to "state-related universities" such as Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh and additional reductions to K-12 schools. There is intense pressure for lawmakers to mitigate some of those cuts using the resurgent tax revenues.
"It's pretty tough with a straight face to look at all these cuts and put ($500 million) in the bank," Joe Scarnati, the Senate president pro tempore, tells The Patriot News of Harrisburg .
Pennsylvania voters will be watching the dispute between Corbett and his own party closely, particularly because the new governor — who was elected last November — made clear during his campaign that he plans to deliver an on-time state budget. Ed Rendell, Corbett's Democratic predecessor, missed the state budget deadline eight years in a row, including a partial one-day shutdown of state government in 2007.