By A. B. Hill

“Pennsylvania’s “day of reckoning has come,” announced Gov. Tom Corbett with calls for fiscal discipline and no new taxes. On March 8 the governor unveiled his $27.3 billion spending plan for the commonwealth’s 2011-2012 fiscal year. The budget proposal represents a 3 percent overall decrease from last year, but program cuts are more surgical than across the board.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) will be following the debate on a number of different line items. {{more}}

Calling for a system of “portable education funding,” Corbett voiced his support for school choice. The proposed budget returns the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program to $75 million.

Senate Bill 1, independent of the budget, proposes an increase in EITC to $100 million and voucher plan to help the neediest students in chronically failing schools. The governor did not specify his support of Senate Bill 1; but he did say that education funding should be “something a student can take with him or her to the school that best fits their needs. One size does not fit all. But as it now stands, not all get to choose. Let’s give them school choice.”

It is likely the legislature will debate Senate Bill 1 alongside the budget.

The line item that provides textbooks and materials to nonpublic school students was decreased 1.7 percent; auxiliary services and special education programs for nonpublic school students are 1.2 percent less.

Funding that reimburses public school districts for transportation of students to nonpublic schools will increase slightly. It is calculated by the number of students who need this service.

Help for people in need
The governor promised to maintain services that care for the commonwealth’s neediest citizens. Most programs in the Department of Public Welfare remained at last year’s funding levels or in some cases increased. Others, however, will be cut.

The Human Services Development Fund (HSDF) is a flexible funding program that provides many services that are not being met anywhere else. For example, some Catholic Charities agencies receive HSDF funding to provide services to people with disabilities to help them live independently. The program was completely cut from the budget.

Pennsylvania’s state-funded alternatives to abortion program received a one percent cut. In the massive state budget, this cut may seem insignificant; but in dire economic times support from a state program may be quite significant to a woman choosing life for her child.

Health care
The state budget plan also significantly cuts Medicaid payments to health care providers and eliminates the adultBasic health insurance program. The adultBasic program provided health insurance for a low-cost premium to approximately 40,000 adults who are uninsured but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

Current enrollees can sign up for the Special Care Program offered by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, but it provides less coverage and a higher premium may make it unaffordable for most of the qualified working poor.

The legislature will debate the budget in the coming weeks. By law, June 30 is their deadline to pass it and send it to the governor’s desk.

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Hill is Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.