Republicans unveil budget that puts pandemic funds in the bank


(Harrisburg) – Republicans who control the Pennsylvania General Assembly on Friday rolled out a $ 39.8 billion general fund budget plan that would save about $ 5 billion in federal coronavirus relief money and increase funding for kindergarten to grade 12 education by $ 300 million.

The first details became public on Friday morning, hours before votes in both legislative chambers are due, although leaders have said it could be Saturday before the process is complete. The state’s fiscal year ends Wednesday.

It would inject $ 279 million into transportation infrastructure and direct $ 280 million to nursing homes and similar facilities, both of which came from federal pandemic money.

A summary from the State House GOP leaders boasted of putting $ 2.5 billion in the rainy day fund and not spending much of the rest of the pandemic money like ” budget restriction so that we can prevent tax increases in the future ”. There is no increase in taxes or fees.

“These people who want to spend every penny this year are preparing us for a significant tax increase in the future,” said Senator Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill. “It’s logic.”

Other provisions of the proposal include prohibiting the Department of Social Services from creating new programs not expressly authorized by the General Assembly, a Republican effort to control the agency’s costs. The proposal would also end overtime regulations imposed by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo

FILE PHOTO: A lone prison officer watches from a tower at a corner of Camp Hill State Prison.

About two-thirds of the new spending is on social services, such as Medicaid, while budget makers have also had to use more than an additional $ 1 billion to fill a gap in the prison budget created when the state used it. federal money to cover the costs of this department. this year.

Republican leaders said the deal was accepted by Wolf on Thursday evening, although Wolf’s office made no immediate comment. The Legislative Democrats have pushed for spending significantly more of the federal pandemic money.

Montgomery County Representative Matt Bradford, the leading Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called the plan a missed opportunity to transform the state.

“In a year when our recovering economy posted a $ 3 billion surplus and we have over $ 7 billion US bailout money to help workers, businesses, schools and many more , it is not enough to say that we passed a budget on time and without a tax increase, ”Bradford said in a statement.

Under the GOP’s proposal, approximately $ 370 million in federal assistance would be used to continue efforts to combat the current pandemic.

In education, the budget proposal would also spend around $ 350 million in pandemic money on lost learning, summer enrichment and after-school programs, to help children whose education has been disrupted. by COVID-19. About $ 100 million is said to be earmarked for the 100 poorest districts in the state, in part in response to a lawsuit over school funding that will soon be tried in Commonwealth court.

It would fund $ 30 million in violence prevention grants, directed “where those dollars are needed,” said House Appropriations Speaker Stan Saylor, R-York.

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