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June 26, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Budget Roundup: Corbett’s human services block grants for counties is budget season casualty

Daily Budget Roundup – June 26, 2012

By PA Independent Staff

Corbett’s human services block grants for counties is budget season casualty

HARRISBURG – The proposal to fund certain public welfare services as block grants to counties has stalled amidst budget negotiations.

But according to newly released budget numbers, those programs will still see cuts over this year’s funding.

Following a House Appropriations Committee, Chairman Rep. Bill Adolph, R- Delaware, said amendments will be offered on the budget bill regarding those services, and a pilot program may be used.

“The amendment we’re going to be offering would have categorical grant lines as in the past,” he said, “and there’s language that I have not seen yet that would be in the welfare code regarding a pilot program.”

As proposed, the Human Services Block Grant would’ve been available to counties as of July 1.

Counties could either use the block grant format for all seven human service funding lines, or phase in the program over three years.

The details of the pilot program – including what counties would be able to enter it and how funding would be structured – were not available Tuesday evening.

Gov. Tom Corbett had touted the flexibility afforded to counties by using block grants, even while he was proposing a 20 percent cut in state funding.  The state Senate reduced that cut to 10 percent.

However, the block grants still did not sit well with many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and a pilot program was unveiled Monday by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks.

Some of the cuts to human services are steeper than others: There is a $15.2 million cut to community-based programs for people with intellectual disabilities over 2011-2012 fiscal year funding, for a total of $151.2 million.

Funding for mental health services is proposed to be reduced $54.9 million from this year to $662.3 million.

This is an update from 7:30 p.m.

School districts get $139 million funding boost over Corbett’s plan

HARRISBURG – Post-budget negotiations, Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts are slated to receive nearly $139 million more in state funding next year than what was proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

That includes about $100 million in a line item that provides block grants that school districts use for full-day kindergarten, early childhood education and other costs that fall beyond the basic education subsidy.

Figures were released Tuesday afternoon detailing how much each school district would receive from the state this year for basic education and Accountability Block Grants under the final budget as proposed by the Senate.

Overall, $5.439 billion will fund basic education for the 2012-2013 school year.  Corbett had proposed a figure of $5.354 billion and the elimination of the block grant program.

The legislature also did away with Corbett’s plan to block grant all basic education dollars to school districts.

School districts that saw the largest increases in funding included:

·         Philadelphia City School District, from a proposed $968.1 million to $989.7 million, a difference of $21.6 million

·         Chester-Upland School District in Delaware County, from a proposed $39.2 million to $59.9 million, a difference of $10.6 million

·         York City School District in York County, from a proposed $44.6 million to $50.8 million, a difference of $6.1 million

·         Allentown School District in Lehigh County, from a proposed $82.8 million to $88.3 million, a difference of $5.5 million

·         Reading School District in Berks County, from a proposed $110.6 million to $116.3 million, a difference of $5.6 million

The increases for four schools categorized as “distressed” included the Chester-Upland and York districts, as well as the Harrisburg School District in Dauphin County and Duquesne School District in Allegheny County.

Funding for those districts is part of a $50 million allocation to aid distressed schools that will be continually paid out during the year.

Steve Robinson, director of public relations for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association representing districts statewide, said the group does not have a response at this time, and will reserve comment until a budget is official and signed.

This is an update from 5:50 p.m.

Distressed schools bill one of four education measures still being negotiated (VIDEO)

HARRISBURG – Legislation to assist distressed schools are one of four major educational reform measures still being negotiated in the final days of the budget session.

The state Senate passed a bill to send $50 million to up to nine distressed school districts earlier this month, but state Sen. Jeff Piccola, R-Dauphin, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the details were still being worked out on Tuesday.

The distressed schools package would include more than just additional funding – for example, the state will be able to appoint a officer to oversee the financial recovery of those districts.

Those are cost-saving measures that will help them put their fiscal house in order, but also dedicate those resources to the education of kids, which is where those resources should be going,” he said.

Four school districts would qualify for some of the additional funds because of the have already been given distressed status within the Department of Education:  Chester-Upland School District in Delaware County, Duquesne School District in Allegheny County, Harrisburg School District in Dauphin County and York School District in York County.

As the legislation is written, up to nine districts could qualify for the additional funding.

Piccola said he did not expect more districts to fall into that category for at least another year, but a new so-called “early warning system” would help the department determine which districts needed help before they reached dire levels.

The goal is to keep the districts from getting into those categories and it would be great if we could limit it to the four that have been identified,” he said.

Future legislatures could change the number of districts or the funding amount, he said.

Other education measures waiting in the wings include the expansion of a tax credit program that helps students attend private or nonpublic schools, a series of financial and regulatory reforms for the state’s system of public charter schools and a plan to change the formula for evaluating public school teachers, which Piccola said was the closest to being finalized.

This is an update from 3:55 p.m.

Markosek says Republicans on Appropriations Committee are rushing through the amendment process

HARRISBURG — The Republicans chairman of a key committee in the budget process said the spending bill could be ready for a vote by Tuesday evening or Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Democrats are concerned that there will not be enough time between then and the June 30 budget deadline, which arrives on Saturday.

State Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said House and Senate Republicans would continue to discuss the budget on Tuesday afternoon.

“Practically speaking, we’ll probably be voting the bills probably tomorrow morning,” he said, referring to Wednesday.

Adolph said about 5 percent of the budget bill was still being haggled over and that he wants to ensure “that all the members have an opportunity” to discuss it.

State Rep Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, the minority chairman of the committee, said that rushing through the amendment process “can be very detrimental to a lot of the Commonwealth.”

“The chairman said we’d have plenty of time,” Markosek told reporters after a committee meeting this morning. “I asked him for a week. We didn’t get a week.”

“All it takes is one or two lines in there that have changed significantly that you may not see on a quick cursory overlook,” he said.

This is an update from 2:15 p.m.

Corrections reform bill to Corbett without single mark against it

HARRISBURG – One piece of a bi-partisan plan to reform Pennsylvania’s corrections system is headed to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk, but another piece is still waiting to be finalized.

The state Senate put their final stamp of approval on a rare, completely bipartisan bill Monday night that would make a series of changes to Pennsylvania’s prison system with the intention of streamlining the release of inmates scheduled for parole, keeping inmates out of the state jails and saving money.

The final vote in the state Senate was 50-0, giving the bill the rare distinction of not having a single negative vote cast against it as it worked through the legislative process.  The state House had previously approved the bill 198-0, to add to a list of several unanimous committee votes.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery

State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, said the bill was a necessary response to state policy that was adding 2,000 new inmates to the state prisons each year – enough so that Pennsylvania would have needed to build a new prison every year for the foreseeable future.

“That was a failed criminal justice policy,” he said.

Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny also praised the legislation, which is expected to save the state $2.5 million in the 2012-13 budget year, which will grow to $38 million next year and $83 million by budget year 2016-17.

State Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango, said the intention is to take some of those savings and direct them back to the local level in an attempt to reduce crime and recidivism.

“It is time to do this smarter,” she said.  “I think this is a very important step in the right direction.”

That’s where a potential wrinkle in an otherwise completely unanimous piece of legislation emerges – a funding mechanism is necessary to direct those dollars to the counties.

The legislation to do so is awaiting action in the Senate Appropriations Committee, but it is unclear if the General Assembly will pass that measure before the end of the month, according to Senate GOP spokesman Erik Arneson.

If it all gets finished, chalk this one up in the “win” column for the Corbett Administration, which has been hit at times by critics and allies alike for failing to get major pieces of legislation across the finish line.

This is an update from 9:45 a.m.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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