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Revenue growth won't fill shortfall

| Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011

HARRISBURG -- Kenneth Gailey of Midland doesn't like the idea of raising state taxes or cutting benefits.

The 50-year-old contractor, who spent 16 years as a carpenter for PennDOT, said he believes state government can make a huge dent in an estimated $4 billion deficit by eliminating or cutting high-end salaries for management and making government more efficient.

"Do we need more taxes• Do we need cuts in the few benefits we have• What we need is fewer people on the high end of that pay scale.

"You hate to see anybody going without, but we can't keep gouging people for tax money," said Gailey, a Republican. "In the big picture, we need to look at where our money is going."

Pennsylvania faces a mounting budget deficit despite signs of improvement in the economy and a boost in tax collections for January, said state Rep. Joe Markosek of Monroeville, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

The state's estimated deficit of $4 billion will require lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett to make "substantial cuts" to the $28 billion budget, said Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley. A clearer picture will emerge March 8 when Corbett gives his budget address to the General Assembly.

State revenue collections for January totaled $72.8 million, or 3.4 percent more than anticipated, according to figures Corbett's office released Tuesday. For seven months of the fiscal year that began July 1, revenue was $264 million, or almost 2 percent, more than estimated.

Even if that growth continues, "it won't fill the hole," said House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County. "I think nationally we're seeing a very slow recovery."

"We're still anticipating cutting several billion dollars," said Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County, a member of the budget panel.

Patricia Valentine, deputy director for behavioral health services with Allegheny County's Department of Human Services, worries that cutting back could cost more in the long term if people can't get outpatient services or medications they need and end up being hospitalized or jailed.

"It seems as though drug and alcohol, mental health, among other social and human services, tend to get cut during times of fiscal distress," she said, adding the department serves "some of the most vulnerable people in Allegheny County."

"These are people who have limited resources in order to speak up for themselves."

Blair Hyatt, executive director of Pennsylvania Head Start Association, worries the state deficit could result in cutbacks for Head Start, a preschool program for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds from low-income families. Program directors are preparing in anticipation of less money, he said.

"We're doing our very best to reach out to new senators and representatives to make sure they understand the importance of Head Start or Pre-K programs, not only to families in their districts but to the economy in their districts," Hyatt said.

Jane Miller, director of government and community relations for Mercy Behavioral Health in the North Side, said it's "almost impossible" to plan for potential cuts. Miller said Mercy Behavioral Health has not experienced budget cuts in recent years but has dealt with "a lack of increases, based on the cost of living."


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