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Budget passed, but fight not over for Wolf, legislators

Pennsylvania has a budget for the current year, so that means everything gets back to business, right?

Well, maybe.

“Funding will go out as quickly as possible now that the budget has become law. The governor’s goals remain that same: avoid fiscal catastrophe by addressing the more than $2,000,000,000 structural budget deficit and invest more in struggling schools,” said Gov. Tom Wolf’s deputy press secretary J.J. Abbott in an email on Monday.

But the Democratic governor’s office and the Republicans in the capital aren’t done taking shots at each other yet.

In a press release, state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s office took aim at what didn’t get done, saying that while the much contested budget did finally become law at midnight Sunday when the governor didn’t sign a veto, the governor did veto the fiscal code that will have other impacts on services like education.

“The governor has claimed to place money for schools above all else, but in the end it was not his priority, given his willingness to continually use his veto to cut millions of dollars from schools,” Corman said.

Education was Wolf’s top issue in the 2015-2016 impasse after placing hefty increases in the budget for both school districts and universities like Penn State, while the Republicans’ focus was on pension reform. Neither side got everything they wanted.

Republican leaders said the fiscal code veto would freeze $150 million in school funding that was budgeted, plus $289 million in school construction and renovation funds.

Nine Centre County schools are on the project list for buildings under renovation or construction and going through the reimbursement process with the state Department of Education. Three more in Philipsburg-Osceola are listed as Clearfield County schools but two sit in Centre County and one serves Centre County students.

“The education and school construction items were agreed to through the negotiation process. The only issues with the fiscal code that were raised by the administration were the two environmental areas he mentioned. The governor has picked his winners and losers and with a $439 million cut, schools and students have lost,” Corman said.

In moving forward with the new budget negotiations, for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the governor is taking aim at the need to create more revenue.

“If the deficit is left unaddressed, we will fall off the fiscal cliff and there will be devastating cuts to schools and human services, more credit downgrades that will cost taxpayers millions, and increases in property taxes for our senior citizens,” Abbott said.

He cited warnings from three independent financial agencies last week on the state’s $2 billion structural deficit.

The new budget needs to be passed by June 30 to avoid another impasse.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce

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