In what can only be described as the ultimate in “kicking the can down the road,” the Pennsylvania General Assembly appears on the verge today of passing an on-time, no tax-hike, austerity state budget that level funds all library programs. Click here for the particulars.
In short, this means that the Governor’s proposed cuts to Library Access and the State Library will not take place but, at the same time, his proposed $500K increase for state aid will not happen either.
In the final analysis, it appears that the General Assembly had little appetite in an election year for tackling pension reform, liquor reform, or implementing new taxes on smokeless tobacco, cigars, and the extraction of natural gas. This new budget is balanced without any new recurring revenue (i.e. taxes) and achieves “balance” through rosy future revenue projections and the one-time transfer from monies in dedicated funds outside of the state’s general fund. The end result is that the budget will balance technically on June 30 but everyone recognizes that using one-time fixes simply masquerades a structural problem that could create a crisis for the 2015-16 budget, or perhaps sooner.
One caveat: While not likely, it is still possible that Governor Corbett might veto the budget using this budget leverage to tackle the state’s pension underfunding.
Candidly, given the circumstances in Harrisburg, escaping with level-funding is not the worst outcome. An early, quick review of the tentative budget agreement shows decreases in the following departments:
- Department of Revenue—down $43 million
- Department of Community and Economic Development—down $32 million
- Department of Conservation and Natural Resources—down $15 million (a 50% cut)
- Department of Military and Veterans Affairs —down $3 million
- Department of Labor and Industry—down $1 million
Departments with the biggest increases were:
- State Police—up $13 million (6.2%)
- Department of Public Welfare—up $124 million (1.1 %)
- Department of Education—up $316 million (2.9%)
The PDE increase requires a closer look. The lion’s share of the $316 million increase goes two places—pensions and Social Security payments (up $164 million) and the Ready to Learn Block grant (up $100 million, but this is an increase that is $141 million less than the Governor requested.) Many PDE programs—like libraries—were level-funded: Basic Education, Head Start, and Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln Universities, to name a few others. Some of the PDE programs cut include Tuition for Orphans and Children (down $10 million), Special Education for Approved Private Schools (down $3 million), and Youth Development Centers (down $2 million.)
That’s where things stand at the moment based on a quick look at the categories. Legislative action is expected today, June 30. PaLA will provide further information when (or if) the budget is finalized. Thank you for all of your great advocacy that has kept libraries from falling further behind this year. We’re in this for the long haul and we live to fight another day.