Republicans unveil budget that puts pandemic funds in bank

HARRISBURG — Republicans who control the Pennsylvania General Assembly rolled out a $39.8 billion general fund budget plan Friday that would put into savings about $5 billion in federal coronavirus relief money and boost K-12 education funding by $300 million.

The first details became public Friday morning, hours before votes in both legislative chambers were expected, although leaders said it may be Saturday before the process wraps up. The state’s budget year ends Wednesday.

It would pump $279 million into transportation infrastructure and direct $280 million to nursing homes and similar facilities, both drawing from the federal pandemic money.

A summary by state House GOP leaders touted putting $2.5 billion into the rainy day fund and not spending much of the rest of the pandemic money as “fiscal restraint so we can prevent tax increases in the future.” There are no tax or fee increases.

“Those people who want to spend every nickel this year are setting us up for a major tax increase in the future,” said Sen. Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill. “This makes sense.”

Among the proposal’s other provisions are a ban on the Department of Human Services creating new programs not expressly authorized by the General Assembly, a Republican effort to control costs at the agency. The proposal also would end overtime regulations imposed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

About two-thirds of the new spending is on human services, such as Medicaid, while budget makers also had to use another $1 billion-plus to fill a hole in the prisons budget created when the state used federal money to cover costs in that department this year.

Republican leaders said the deal was agreed to by Wolf late Thursday, although Wolf’s office offered no immediate comment. Legislative Democrats have pushed to spend much more of the federal pandemic money.

Rep. Matt Bradford of Montgomery County, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called the plan a missed opportunity to transform the state.

“In a year when our rebounding economy delivered a $3 billion surplus and we have more than $7 billion in American Rescue Plan money to help workers, businesses, schools and so many more, it’s not enough to just say we passed a budget on time and with no tax increases,” Bradford said in a statement.

Under the GOP proposal, about $370 million in federal aid would go toward continuing efforts to combat the current pandemic.

In education, the budget proposal would also spend about $350 million in pandemic money on learning loss, summer enrichment and afterschool programs, to help children whose educations were disrupted by COVID-19. About $100 million would be earmarked for the state’s 100 poorest districts, partly in response to a lawsuit over school funding that will soon go to trial in Commonwealth Court.

It would fund $30 million in grants to prevent violence, directed to “wherever those dollars are needed,” said House Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor, R-York.


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