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State budget headed for votes would cut spending 4.1 percent

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Monday, June 27, 2011

HARRISBURG -- The proposed state budget likely to face votes in the Senate and House this week will be smaller than this year's by $1.1 billion, a decrease of 4.1 percent from the current budget, according to a copy posted online this afternoon by House Republicans.

Spending would fall from $28.3 billion this year to $27.145 billion in the 2011-12 budget year that begins July 1.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who won office in November on a pledge to get state spending under control and shrink government, insisted that the budget not exceed $27.3 billion.

A proposed 4 percent budget cut is likely unprecedented in modern history, said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster County. "This is pretty remarkable," said Madonna. "I don't remember a time in modern history" that spending was cut.

The smallest budget change previously was in 1996-97 under former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, when spending increased by 0.6 percent, according to the governor's budget office.

Republican House and Senate leaders crafted the budget with Corbett, in closed-door meetings. The spreadsheets on state spending first became available today.

House and Senate Democrats throughout the day ripped the spending cuts, noting the current budget year will finish with a surplus of $600 million to $700 million.

Corbett said the cuts are necessary to close a $4 billion deficit -- most of it stemming from the loss of federal stimulus money. Senate Democrats maintain the deficit was only $2.8 billion when Corbett proposed his budget in March.

Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, said there is no surplus. He likened it to someone maxed out on their credit cards, finding $10 in the clothes dryer.

The $28.3 billion figure in the current budget included more than $3 billion in federal stimulus money. Those funds dried up for 2011-12.

The basic education subsidy for K-12 schools will drop less than a fraction of a percentage point (0.62 percent) from $5.4 billion to $5.35 billion, a cut of $33.6 million, according to the House GOP printout. However, schools also will lose $655 million in stimulus funds they got this year.

Special Education funding remains flat at a little more than $1 billion.

Overall K-12 spending, for all programs including basic ed, special education, intermediate units, school food programs and services to non-public schools -- to name a few -- would fall about $818 million, or 7.8 percent. The appropriation would decrease from $10.4 billion to about $9.6 billion.

Corbett proposed 50 percent cuts for higher education, but Republican lawmakers balked. The University of Pittsburgh's appropriation will decrease 19 percent under the budget agreement -- which includes a loss of $7.5 million in federal stimulus funds. The state appropriation is decreasing 15 percent, said House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County.

Pitt's overall appropriation would decline from $167.9 million to $136 million.

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