Gov. Corbett’s budget may not have as much impact as feared

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal was released last week, and as promised it does have some dramatic spending cuts. How will they impact Catholic-sponsored programs?

First of all, the governor proposes, the state legislature disposes. The final budget will be hammered out by the legislators in coming weeks and passed on to the governor for signature or veto. Because the governor’s party, Republican, controls both houses, one may assume his wishes will influence the final budget.

The proposed cuts as a percentage of state expenditures are not dramatic; just about 3 percent, down to $27.3 billion, according to a Bloomburg Businessweek article. The most dramatic cuts are in education, which for K-12 would be approximately $550 million or almost 10 percent, not including a further elimination of $260 million in grants to pre-K through grade three programs.

Corbett also proposes cutting subsidies to state-owned universities by 50 percent, or $625 million. {{more}}

Because Catholic schools do not receive much state money, they are not greatly impacted by this. Text book and materials allowances would decrease by 1.7 percent and auxiliary services and special education programs would decrease by 1.2 percent, according to A.B. Hill, communications director for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.

Although Governor Corbett supported some funding for nonpublic schools during his campaign, this was not included in his budget proposal but may be addressed by an upcoming Senate bill.

Social Service programs will also show cuts, but not nearly as dramatic as the educational programs.

“There are cuts, no doubt about it, but not nearly as deep as we feared it might be,” said Francis J. Viglietta, director of social concerns for the PCC.

A serious cut under Corbett’s proposal would be the elimination of the adultBasic health insurance program, which provides health insurance at a low premium for working poor adults who are uninsured because their income makes purchasing insurance prohibitive, yet they do not qualify for Medicaid. This affects an estimated 40,000 workers. There will be a plan offered by the Blue Cross companies, but it would be a higher premium and much less coverage.

“We are hoping some funds will be put back into the budget to restore this (adultBasic),” Viglietta said.

The new budget proposal also calls for decreases in Medicaid payments to health care providers, who are already complaining the payments are far too low.

Just as many other programs in the social service arena, the governor’s proposal would decrease funding for alternatives to abortion by 1 percent. Some pro-life advocates, including the Pro-Life Union of Southeastern Pennsylvania, argue that Corbett’s proposal approved funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading abortion provider.

Actually, the proposed funding for Family Planning Services does not mention specific providers.

“We know none of the money provides abortion series,” Viglietta said. “Perhaps the time has come for us to take a look at funds coming from the state.”

In Philadelphia, at Catholic Human Services, James Amato, deputy secretary for Catholic Social Services, agreed that “early indications show the Department of Public Welfare is not cut in a significant way.”

Meanwhile, the legislature and the governor have until June 30 to thrash out a final budget.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.