Commissioners unhappy with budget proposal

Officials: GOP plan cuts funding for services

LOCK HAVEN — The Clinton County commissioners said they’re none too pleased after Pennsylvania House Republicans unveiled a $31.5 billion, no-new-taxes budget proposal.

Commissioners Paul Conklin, Pete Smeltz and Jeff Snyder all suggested that several cutbacks proposed in the state budget represent another significant shift in costs off state government and onto the backs of county government and local taxpayers.

Critics say the plan leaves many questions unanswered, including how it would fill a projected $3 billion deficit without a tax increase, and how it would find such significant savings in two of the costliest services in state government: prisons and health care for the poor.

The House Republican majority approved the budget this week and put it on a fast track to the Senate.

Republicans have majorities in both the House and Senate.

After allowing for $234 million to patch a current-year shortfall, the House GOP plan would actually cut overall spending next year by a little under 1 percent.

Democrats quickly signaled their opposition in a party-line committee vote Monday evening.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, aired concerns about some of the plan’s spending cuts, including for child-care subsidies, and said he believed that corporations should pay their “fair share” while state government tightens its belt.

In February,Wolf floated a $32.3 billion spending plan, based on a $1 billion tax package, including a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production, and a range of savings measures, including closing a prison in Pittsburgh, cutting unfilled employee positions, and reducing dispensing fees on drug purchases.

On Thursday, State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, said the Republican plan failed to meet the basic needs of the commonwealth or working families.

According to Hanna, the proposal, House Bill 218, includes many of the priorities that Gov. Wolf outlined in his budget address, such as increases to basic, special and higher education spending, and provides budgetary savings from government efficiencies. However, it falls short with regards to early childhood education programs and child care for working parents and their children, fails to make necessary investments to attract good, family-sustaining jobs, and disregards the huge financial hole Pennsylvania already faces.

Hanna said the plan eliminates funding for safe school initiatives and reduces funding for Pre-K and Head Start programs, medical assistance, services for seniors and persons with physical disabilities, mental-health services, human services programs, trauma, burn and Obstetrics and Neonatal services.

The commissioners pointed out that many of those initiatives will fall to the counties for financial support, if no state funding is forthcoming.

Year after year of cuts to county programs, including courts and mental health, make another year of state funding decreases hard for officials to swallow, the commissioners said.

Outcry against the House budget proposal has also come from the County Commissioner Association of Pennsylvania, which stated that despite the claim of a “no tax increase” budget, funding cuts to local services will require counties to raise taxes.

“It instead represents a continuing pattern of the state failing to meet its full responsibility to its service delivery partners and its citizens most in need,” the association said in a statement.

Line items to be eliminated include:

r Juvenile probation services, $18.9 million;

r Adult probation services, $16.2 million;

r Intermediate punishment treatment programs, $18.2 million;

r County trial reimbursement, $200,000;

r Senior judge reimbursement, $1.4 million; and

r Court interpreter county grants, $1.5 million.

Line items to be decreased include:

r County court reimbursement, by $3.5 million;

r Jurors cost reimbursement, by $168,000;

r Mental health services, by $5 million from the governor’s proposal for a total cut of $19.6 million;

r Behavioral health services, by $4 million;

r Human Services Development Fund, by $2 million; and

r Homeless assistance, by $2.8 million.

Smeltz said if the cuts come to fruition, they spell out a troubling impact for counties throughout the commonwealth.

Snyder said there appears to be a lot of “game-playing” at the state level, and added he is nowhere near convinced that the various political divisions would get their fiscal ducks in a row in time to pass a final budget in June.

Conklin and Smeltz suggested the various proposals for a county-level income or sales tax were just another way for the state Legislature to pass the buck and avoid taking responsibility for properly subsidizing state-mandated services.