DEP Cut Over 26 Percent, DCNR Cut 18 Percent In Final Budget
Senate Leaders, House Democrats and Gov. Rendell agreed to and passed a budget bill-- House Bill 1416 (D.Evans-D-Philadelphia)-- that includes the largest single cut in General Fund environmental spending ever, erasing 13 years of environmental progress.
The budget reduces overall General Fund moneys to the Department of Environmental Protection by 26.7 percent ($58 million) and includes an 18.5 percent reduction for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources ($21 million).
The new budget for DEP may mean the furlough of over 300 employees.
After signing the budget, Gov. Rendell said, "The is truly an achievement in holding down overall spending and programmatic spending. This budget preserves everything voters say they care about- education, economic development and medical care."
The Governor's Office handed out a fact sheet to reporters showing General Fund spending at the Department of Environmental Protection was at the same level as in 1996-97, erasing 13 years of environmental progress.
“While the budget I have signed today is late, it’s a responsible budget, given the economic condition of the nation and the state. This budget is a half billion dollars smaller than the budget we enacted last year. In fact, it is only the third budget in the past 50 years that is lower than the previous year’s,” said Gov. Rendell
Of the 657 line items in last year’s budget, this plan completely cuts appropriations to 142 line items. Another 360 line items are reduced from last year’s amounts. Administrative spending declines by 9 percent; the Governor’s office is funded at 1997-98 levels, while the General Assembly is at the 2003-04 mark. The budget eliminates legislative initiative grants, commonly known as WAMs.
The Senate and House gave final approval House Bill 1614 (Belfanti-D-Northumberland), which contains the Fiscal Code changes needed to implement the budget agreement. The Governor signed the bill into law.
The bill creates an independent Budget Office to prepare revenue estimates which drive the budget process (rather than the Governor's Budget Office), directs the leasing of State Forest land for natural gas drilling and makes many other changes.
With respect to State Forest leasing for natural gas drilling, the bill provides no acreage limits or caps, no minimum bids/royalties on leasing, but lets the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources control the leasing process. (see separate story)
Other changes in the bill include:
-- Provisions related to water infrastructure were also included-- boiler plate language to implement the $400 million water infrastructure passed by voters last November (from Senate Bill 1573 (Musto-D-Luzerne)) and a revision to the definition of the types of organizations eligible for H20 Water Infrastructure financial assistance (from House Bill 1798 (Eachus-D-Luzerne));
-- Language authorizing the Department of Environmental Protection to charge fees of up to $150 to applicants applying for funds under the Alternative Energy Investment Act of 2008; and
-- Eliminating $15 million in funding to DEP for the Consumer Energy Program for FY 2009-10.
The bill does NOT include an extension of the $2/ton Recycling Fee through 2020, creation of a Waste Tire Pile Cleanup Fund transferring $1.2 million from the Recycling Fund to the program or an exemption for rail-shipped waste from the $4/ton Growing Greener waste fee.
The Senate and House gave final approval to House Bill 1531 (George-D-Clearfield) which includes the tax provisions of the budget agreement. The Governor signed the bill into law.
The bill makes available only 50 percent of the $10 million in the funding for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) farm conservation tax credit program in FY 2009-10 ($5 million) and 45 percent in FY 2010-11 ($4.5 million). (see separate article)
The bill does NOT include a natural gas production severance tax supported by environmental, sportsmen and local government groups.
With this budget now final, the total environmental funding taken to balance the budget, diverted to programs that could not get funding on their own or simply cut out of the budget over the last 7 years is $980 million. (see separate article)
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