State budget draws mixed reviews from local lawmakers

One House member feels the recently passed state budget is a good one, while another lashes out against the cuts it make with education.

Overall, the 28.4 million spending plan represents a 2.6 percent increase over last year’s plan.

It includes $719 million in additional spending.

“It’s actually a better budget than we had last year,” said state House Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy. “We were able to free up some money for education.”

And more money is being spent for kindergarten through 12th grade students than ever before, he added.

Everett voted in favor of the budget.

But state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, who voted against the spending plan, said local district districts are once again the big losers.

He noted that rural school districts have lost many more dollars in funding over the past three budgets than their suburban counterparts in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

“If you look at the cumulative budget cuts of rural schools districts over three years compared to suburban ones, rural citizens are being treated like third class citizens,” he said.

Those cutbacks in turn, he said, put pressure on local districts to raise property taxes.

Overall, the way education money was dispersed has rural districts taking a hit, according to Mirabito.

State Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township said the budget is the result of careful and thorough study of Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal from earlier this year.

“The budget makes investments in education, public safety, economic development and job creation and provides support for essential social and health services and programs without increasing taxes,” he said.

Yaw, who voted in favor of the budget, said he’s disappointed there’s been no resolution to passing a transportation funding bill and privatizing the state’s liquor stores.

Additional funding for highways and bridges would bring the added benefit of thousands of jobs to the area and the state, he said.

Without specifying particular programs, Yaw said he also would have liked to have seen more spending for welfare.

Mirabito criticized the budget for not doing more.

There’s no provision in the budget, he said, for restoring the police helicopter to the Wiliamsport Regional Airport.

Other programs in need of funding could certainly find it through the passage of a natural gas severance tax.

Everett said the state continues to face problems with funding its pension obligations.

“We need to do something. “We really need to address the underlying problem.”

Everett noted that the increase for funding alone for the Public School Employee Retirement System went up by 19 percent.

Yaw agreed the state needs to find a way to fund its pension costs.

“We have a pension obligation,” said Yaw. “Is it a crisis? Is it going to force the state into bankruptcy? No.”

State Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro could not be reached for comment for this story.