On June 30th, the State Senate approved by a 26-24 and House of Representative by 108-95 a $29.1 billion general fund budget for 2014-15. The budget raises total state spending about $500 million, or about 1.9 percent from current-year levels. Also, the budget is balanced on predictions of a return to strong economic growth and a series of one time revenue strategies that does not include new taxes.
Specifically, the Legislature developed the plan that fills the gap by postponing nearly $400 million in Medicaid payments, utilizing reserves and scaling back off-budget programs that support business expansions, volunteer fire companies, improvements to public parks and forests, and anti-tobacco efforts.
Significantly, the budget provides for more funding for schools and human services. For education, total spending will jump by $314 million in FY 2014-15, to $10.6 billion. In addition, $150 million will be allocated towards school employee pension benefits expansion of block grants targeted for specific instructional uses from $100 million to $200 million; an additional $20 million in aid for special education costs; and $10 million more for pre-K programs. The total addition to the basic education spending is about 3.1 percent.
In the area of human services, $11.2 billion will be allocated to the Department of Public Welfare to spend on several programs such as Corbett’s Healthy PA program. Included in the DPW’s budget, $30 million in new funding will be directed towards eliminating waiting lists for services for young adults with intellectual disabilities who have aged out of public school settings. A new $2 million-plus appropriation was added to help support and develop Children’s Advocacy Centers, regional clearinghouses for the investigation of child abuse cases and treatment of victims.
However, as of Monday night, Governor Corbett refused to sign the budget, claiming that it did not address pension reform adequately enough. This may set up a summer stalemate, but too early to tell. The legislature is still in until at least Wednesday, July 2nd working on ancillary bills, including fiscal code legislation that contains prohibition against funds for community-based family centers from being used as part of the base calculation of a county’s child welfare needs-based budget and reporting requirements for child welfare service providers to assist the DPW in supporting its claims for federal funding.