State Appropriations chairman talks spending

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Walter Gower, assistant dean of the School of Transportation and Natural Resources at Pennsylvania College of Technology, left, shows off a Lycoming Engines 320-cubic-inch engine to state Sen. Patrick M. Browne at the Lumley Aviation Center Thursday.

Each year, the state must pass a budget and each year the task of considering areas of the spending plan to either cut or increase is undertaken.

Much of the internal work in crafting a plan takes place within the the Senate and House Appropriations Committees following a budget proposal given by the governor.

State Sen. Patrick M. Browne, R-Allentown, the Senate Appropriations chairman, addressed key components of the budget at a Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Thursday.

It many ways, coming up with a final budget comes down to balancing the state’s needs, government mandates and political differences between Republicans and Democrats.

“We try to find a common ground with the governor in the end,” he said.

Browne said the strong economy presents opportunities for fiscal sustainability.

This year’s spending plan of more than $32 billion, he noted, was passed by the June 30 deadline, unlike those of other more recent years when negotiations extended beyond that date.

“There are always going to be disagreements in a diverse state like Pennsylvania,” he said.

Like many states, Pennsylvania’s education spending comprises a very large chunk of the budget.

In fact, the combined spending for both education and human services amounts to 70 percent of the budget.

Spending for kindergarten through 12th grade alone increased by $100 million this year.

Browne noted that the budget also included the Pa. Smart Initiative, a $30 million investment in the state’s career workforce to help address the problem many companies have in attracting well-trained employees.

Browne noted that schools across the state were able to tap into the dollars allocated to upgrade security in their districts.

The money can be used by schools for measures ranging from hiring school safety officers to improving infrastructure security.

“We are getting positive reviews on this,” he said.

Browne said mandated spending such as that allocated for state employee pensions and human services will continue to drive budget costs.

The state’s rising senior population in need of services also will add to the budget, he noted.

But increases in certain parts of the budget inevitably mean decreases in other parts of the spending plan.

Moving ahead, there will be a need to restructure the budget to best meet mandates, demands and the needs of the state’s residents.

COMMENTS