Local lawmakers may be done haggling over the state budget process for yet another year, but are still fighting over the return of the state police aviation unit to the Williamsport Regional Airport.
The $27.7 billion budget passed by both Houses this week restores some $600 million in funding from the plan proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett.
But it apparently fails to include any provision in the fiscal code for bringing back the aviation center for helping with law enforcement.
"We haven't exactly seen the fiscal code yet," said state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy. "However, it is my understanding that it has been taken out of the fiscal code."
The fiscal code is considered separately from the budget and was expected to be voted on this weekend.
Everett and state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, said earlier this week that they were optimistic the governor would include in the fiscal code the aviation unit, which for a number of years housed a police helicopter and a fixed-wing airplane.
Mirabito first told the Sun-Gazette late Thursday night that the governor had reneged on a verbal agreement to return the aviation center to the airport.
"It's a disappointment," said state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, who along with the two House members fought for the aviation unit. "It's one of those things. We did not have support across the board."
Yaw said the fight will not end, however.
"So, we fought the good fight," added Everett. "I don't consider it the final chapter. There will be other opportunities."
Everett, who voted in favor of the budget, said he felt there was a lot to like about it.
He noted that the spending plan restores $84 million to the governor's proposed 20 percent cut to human services funding.
In addition, the budget avoids the elimination of a $100 million block grant for schools and a 20- to 30-percent cut to funding for public universities.
But Mirabito saw it differently.
He noted that there will still be a 10-percent cut to human services.
"That to me is not a victory," he said.
Mirabito said he voted against the budget for a number of reasons, including its failure to include funding for the state's much needed infrastructure improvements.
"We have a lot of infrastructure that needs to be taken care of, especially if we want to attract business to Pennsylvania," he said.
Yaw, who voted in favor of the budget, said it appears overall to be a pretty good one.
"We have had some complaints about it, but they have been pretty few," he said. "There's an increase in spending from last year, which is a reflection of some improvement in the economy. There is no tax increase."
Yaw said education funding remains the same.
He noted the "so-called big cuts" in education funding of last year were the result of losing federal stimulus money.
"There's not a lot of extra money around," he said. "We are going back to what's necessary."
Added Everett: "I don't think it was ever the state's responsibility to backfill that money."
Once again, Mirabito lamented how rural areas, such as Lycoming County, were particularly hurt by spending cuts.
The budget does include a provision for extra funding for distressed school districts, but many schools will be forced to raise extra revenues through local property taxes, while still cutting personnel or educational services.
"I think when you put it all together, it's a fiscally responsible budget," Everett said. "This budget is no tax increase, no borrowing."
State Rep. Matt Baker, R-Wellsboro also voted for the budget.
"This budget spends responsibly and is focused on creating jobs," he said. "For the second year in a row the state budget does not raise taxes on Pennsylvania businesses and working families. The budget will help create jobs and an economic environment where businesses will grow and employ more Pennsylvanians. It also maintains the phase out of the Capitol Stock and Franchise Tax, a job killing tax that hurts businesses. This budget, while austere, is sensible and balanced and fiscally sustainable."
He said he was pleased that state universities will receive the same level of funding, allowing them to continue to offer a quality education for a reasonable cost. In addition, school districts will receive more money through the continuation of the block grant program, which offers schools with flexible funding for programs such as all-day kindergarten.
Hospitals, trauma and burn centers, neonatal hospitals, and nursing homes will receive the same funding levels, he noted.