Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has proposed an essentially flat budget in order to close a projected deficit of more than $700 million.
As expected, there are no tax increases in the $27.1 billion dollar spending plan, and the departments that pundits considered to be least likely to see cuts have stayed more or less level. However, higher education is seeing double-digit reductions.
A 20 percent cut is proposed for the State System of Higher Education's 14 state-owned universities. A 30 percent reduction is planned for Penn State, Pitt, and Temple. Funding for the fourth state-related school, Lincoln University, however, would remain level under the plan.
Last year, the state schools were cut by 18 percent.
The Education Department and the Department of Public Welfare are being funded at nearly the same levels as last year, but the way the money is being doled out to school districts and programs will change. The Corbett Administration said that would give administrators the ability to set their own priorities and reallocate state funding as they see fit.
The administration said it won't affect the formula that determines which school district gets what amount of money.
The Department of Public Welfare would also get about the same funding, but cash assistance benefits would be cut to save more than $300 million. The Department of Environmental Protection would see an eight percent budget reduction or about $10 million.
The governor was vague when it came to transportation funding. "I have spent significant time considering this issue with my transportation team and developed some workable solutions. However, those solutions will only be possible with your input, assistance, and support. I look forward to working with you," said Corbett to the general assembly.
"This is not a budget item. It is too large for that. Transportation must be confronted as its own distinct and separate topic. This problem has grown for the past several decades and it will not be solved overnight. But, whatever solution we enact must be a lasting one," Corbett said.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he is pleased with the Governor's comments about transportation funding. "He is embracing his Transportation Funding Advisory Commission's recommendations. Based on his remarks, he is asking the House and Senate members to do the same."
"I am proud that the Democratic members of the Allegheny County delegation are clearly supportive of those proposals, and I hope to see others join them in this effort," Fitzgerald said.
The Democratic leadership was quick to call the budget one "that will hurt middle class families in Pennsylvania." The party pointed to "drastic cuts to education and social services."
"The budget dramatically cuts higher education, which will increase tuition for middle class families. Last year's budget included similar cuts, which resulted in higher property taxes, increased tuition costs, layoffs, and program cuts for children, families, and seniors," said Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn.
"Once again Tom Corbett has proven that he has the wrong priorities for Pennsylvania. Homeowners will pay higher taxes because of Tom Corbett's budget and families will pay more for college because of Tom Corbett's budget," Burn said.
Dan Frankel (D- Lawrenceville) called the budget "potentially devastating" with a "complete lack of any cogent proposal on transportation."
"He came out with no proposal with that and I think that's a really devastating message to send to western Pennsylvania," said Frankel.
Frankel was also upset with the lower-than-hoped-for funding of education at all levels.