Centre County leaders react to end of Pa. budget stalemate

“It restores the funding for our agricultural community and means Penn State won’t lay off 1,100 employees,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said about Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision Wednesday to not veto the state’s 2015-16 spending plan.
“It restores the funding for our agricultural community and means Penn State won’t lay off 1,100 employees,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said about Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision Wednesday to not veto the state’s 2015-16 spending plan. Centre Daily Times, file

After nine months without a budget, Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement Wednesday that he won’t veto the 2015-2016 state spending plan prompted several reactions.

Centre County’s own Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, has been a central player in the drama as the state Senate majority leader.

“This afternoon, Gov. Wolf announced that he would not sign, but would also not veto, the 2015-16 budget. He did indicate that he will veto the fiscal code, which includes a funding formula for school construction costs. We will be working through this to determine what implications this will cause and how to best address them moving forward,” he said in a statement.

“This budget contains millions of new dollars for education and keeps our schools from closing their doors. It restores the funding for our agricultural community and means Penn State won’t lay off 1,100 employees. Rural hospitals receive their funding as do regional cancer centers, poison control facilities and more. Penn State and other colleges will receive their state dollars. The examples are endless,” Corman said.

“If the governor sticks to his word and allows this to become law, we are now able to move the conversation to the 2016-17 budget. Of course there are some challenges and we are meeting them with the spirit that we need to get this done. The citizens of Pennsylvania have spoken that we need to get this done and we are hopeful we can continue to negotiate with the governor. We are happy to be moving forward,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, said he was relieved to see the standoff between the Democratic governor and Republican-led legislature end.

“While it is a relief the budget crisis will come to an end, I remain disappointed that children in schools across the state, members of our agricultural industry and those who depend on our state’s nonprofit agencies were held hostage throughout this budget process,” Thompson said. “It is my hope that the governor understands that funds appropriated by the federal government are not pawns to be used for political leverage — and that with talks underway on next fiscal year’s budget, that this crisis is avoided in the future.”

Local Democrats were also weighing in.

“Harrisburg remains broken and because of this Pennsylvania continues to face a huge fiscal cliff. The governor is taking steps to ensure our schools remain open and our human services remain committed to those in need,” said state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven.

“It is encouraging to hear members on the other side of the aisle come to the realization that the state has a huge structural deficit. The problem has come to a head and has now been acknowledged. I can only hope that this acknowledgment fuels the GOP’s desire to compromise on a common-sense balanced budget for fiscal year 2016-17.”

Hanna said the budget doesn’t solve all the problems but will help school districts, human service providers and other agencies.

“Adequate funding with real dollars has always been my main concern,” Hanna said. “I have stood with the governor in fighting to change the way business is done is Harrisburg and, although this marks the end of the 2015-16 budget impasse, I will not stop fighting until we have a solid budgetary process moving forward.”

What he doesn’t want to see is a replay with the next budget, already on the table.

“This type of budgeting cannot happen again. Our children do not deserve to be undereducated due to schools closing and employees of our human service providers and schools do not deserve to be laid off or work without pay,” Hanna said. “We must be mindful of the warnings by the Independent Fiscal Office and all credit rating agencies who have threatened to downgrade our credit worthiness for the sixth time in five years. Pennsylvania is on a fiscal cliff and if we don’t work to solve this problem now, we will have failed the people of Pennsylvania.”

Centre County Board of Commissioners Chairman Michael Pipe called on lawmakers and the governor to finish the 2016-17 budget by the June 30 deadline.

“The focus now needs to be on not having another impasse that took a toll on local governments, human service agencies, schools and Penn State,” Pipe said. “Never again should Centre County be subject to the failures of the state to get a budget done on time.”

Penn State will see a 5 percent boost in its general support appropriation, from $214.1 million to $224.8 million. That is less than the increase Wolf had been promising, but that isn’t something that is upsetting the university administration.

“This is obviously quite a relief for Penn State and the students, faculty and staff we serve,” university President Eric Barron said in a statement. “State funding plays a critical role in our ability to offer an accessible, world-class education to Pennsylvanians and it also allows us to keep in operation our network of county agricultural extension services and agricultural research. We are grateful that our elected leadership in Harrisburg have reached a positive resolution to a difficult budget process.”

In recent weeks, a looming deadline with another Penn State area has taken center stage. The budget stalemate had pushed Barron to the point of possible layoffs to agricultural staff, including cuts to Penn State Extension across the state and 4-H programs.

“We are greatly appreciative that state funding for agricultural research and extension will be restored and, in fact, increased for the current fiscal year,” said Richard Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, in a release. “Most of all, we are eternally grateful for the passionate efforts of our stakeholders in the agricultural industry, 4-H members and volunteers, Master Gardeners and other advocates who made their voices heard in every corner of the state in support of our programs. We look forward to continuing our land-grant partnership with the state as we continue to address the important food and agriculture, animal health and natural-resource issues facing Pennsylvania.”

The university issues were important to Corman.

“Any time Penn State isn’t getting funding, that’s my people taking the hit in my county,” he told the CDT.

It was also a broader issue for him, citing the impact of the ag programs across all 67 counties.

“I am happy to make that happen,” he said.

But there is always a possible reprise of the standoff if the new budget, due June 30, isn’t passed.

“I hope not,” said Corman.

But he still has goals he wants to achieve.

Corman said he didn’t get what he wanted, the pension reform that he saw as the most important hurdle.

“For better or for worse, we begin again next week,” he said.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce