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Governor, Legislators Consider $453 Million In Cuts To Environmental Programs, Layoffs

Senate Republicans and House Democrats exchanged budget proposals of $27.5 billion and $28.2 billion respectively this week and then they began to talk to Gov. Rendell about their budget ideas.

           By the end of the week, Gov. Rendell and House Democrats say they were firmly behind a $28.2 billion spend number that includes a $320 million increase in basic education funding.  Senate Republicans inched their proposal up to $27.8 billion, but said many of the cuts they proposed were being ignored.
            Gov. Rendell was also pushing to restore some economic development funding in the Department of Community and Economic Development Senate Republicans quickly labeled "the Governor's WAMS."
            Even at the $28.1 billion level, Gov. Rendell said the budget would require the layoff of about 1,000 state workers.
            Senate President Pro Tem (and Lt. Governor) Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) said it was unfair of the Governor and House Democrats to cut programs 5 to 10 percent across-the-board just to increase education spending.
            While positions were hardening around these numbers, the U.S. Senate failed to pass an appropriations bill (most people say it's dead) that would give Pennsylvania $850 million in federal Medicaid funds.  Both Senate Republicans and Gov. Rendell and House Democrats had already factored this money into their budgets.
            Gov. Rendell said if the Congress failed to act, he would begin making cuts starting July 1 to make up the funding.  One result would be the furlough of 20,000 state and local workers.
            Now, instead of a $1.2 billion deficit, the state faces over $2 billion in red ink, pending the June revenues which come in next week.  But don't look for any pots of gold there.
            Funding Diversions

            Gov. Rendell also proposed a menu of special fund transfers and suspensions this week in addition to the first $321 million in environmental funding cuts Gov. Rendell proposed to budgets for the departments of Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection in his FY 2010-11 budget request.

            The Governor proposed a total of $182 million in transfers and suspensions from special funds, with the $132 million from environmental funds making up the bulk of the cuts.
            The new transfers and suspensions from environmental funds would come from--
-- Growing Greener-- $12 million (transfer), $29.8 million (suspension) - total $41.8 million -- virtually all the money going into the fund in FY 2010-11 beyond paying for the Growing Greener II bond issue debt service and eliminate funding for county conservation district watershed specialists;
-- Keystone Fund-- $54.8 million (suspension) -- virtually all the money going into the fund in FY 2010-11;
-- Surface Mining Conservation -- $10 million (transfer);
-- Clean Air Fund-- $8 million (transfer);
-- Energy Development Fund-- $2 million (transfer); and
-- Agriculture Easement Purchase Fund- $20.4 million (suspension) -- virtually all the money going into the fund in FY 2010-11.
            The remainder of the $321 million in proposed cuts were the result of locking in $79 million in agency cuts made in the 2009-10 budget, making an additional $5 million in cuts, diverts $180 million from DCNR's Oil and Gas Fund to help balance the budget, cuts $5.5 million from the Resources Enhancement and Protection (REAP) farm conservation tax credit program and reduces support for wastewater treatment plants by $52 million (carried over from previous years).
            Of course the additional across-the-board cuts proposed to meet the $28.1 billion spending plan would increase these agency cuts.
            Over the last 8 years, if the proposals we know about are adopted, $1.4 billion of environmental funding will be diverted or cut from state environmental programs.  (2/12/2010 Pa Environment Digest)
            But, given the new budget challenge handed the state by the feds, these transfers and more cuts will be needed, assuming there isn't agreement on any tax or fee increases.
            What About....
            Then, of course, the special session on transportation funding is plodding along to make up another $472 million shortfall when the federal government turned down the plan to toll I-80.
            And, if the Commonwealth's appeal of the $800 million in MCare funds Commonwealth Court said were transferred illegally to balance this year's budget fails.... well, things could get real ugly real fast.
            Environmental Funding Retreat
            Last year Gov. Rendell said funding cuts resulted in taking environmental programs back to 1996-97 levels.  These additional cuts will rollback environmental programs erasing more than 14 years of environmental progress.
            NewsClips:  Rendell Says He's Ready To Leave Office
                                 Budget Talks Stall Amid Spending Differences
                                 Legislative Leaders Await Rendell's Revised Budget Proposal
                                 Rendell Says Budget Proposal Would Require 1,000 State Layoffs
                                 Rendell Sounds Warning If Federal Money Not Approved
                                 Budget Deal Nears, As Long As U.S. Funds Arrive
                                 Budget Talks Narrow Gap, But Deal Still Elusive
                                 Bill's Failure In U.S. Senate Could Blow State Budget
                                 Washington Politics Could Affect PA Budget
                                 Rendell Sends Solobay Headless Bobblehead Doll Over Severance Tax



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