In April, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a budget bill, which will eliminate from Centre County about $500,000 in criminal justice system funding if it becomes law.
The Republican-majority House passed the GOP bill with a strong party line vote of 114-84. All 80 Democrats in the House and four Republicans voted against the bill, which proposes cuts in criminal justice funding by about $60 million statewide.
The criminal justice funding cuts proposed by the bill would be made to adult and juvenile probation, intermediate punishment, county trial reimbursement, senior judge reimbursement, court interpreter grants, county court reimbursement and juror costs. The services being defunded or cut are mandated by the state or considered vital by state legislation.
The county receives almost $240,000 annually for adult and juvenile probation services.
There are about 3,000 adult offenders in the county’s probation system, which administers the in-home detention and electronic monitoring program. Centre County Board of Commissioners Chairman Michael Pipe said the program helps to keep adult, nonviolent offenders working to support their families. Without it, he said, the only option would be incarceration.
The county receives about $142,000 annually for intermediate punishment services. The program also includes in-home detention and electronic monitoring. Without the program, the county would incarcerate about 150 more individuals per year, according to Pipe.
If the bill becomes a law, funding for county trial reimbursement would be eliminated. These funds are used for high-profile trials, such as the Jerry Sandusky case. Under the GOP bill, money spent by a county on additional officers or infrastructure expenses during these trials would no longer be reimbursed by the state.
Senior judge reimbursement and court interpreter grants will also be eliminated. The county receives almost $90,000 for these services.
The bill also cuts about $28,000 from the money annually allocated to the county for Court of Common Pleas judges and cuts about $3,000 for juror costs.
Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Spruce Creek Township, said the bill is the beginning of an effort to restart the government with a $246 million spending cut aimed at addressing the state’s $3 billion budget deficit.
“While not every aspect of the budget plan was supported by myself or each member, the concept reflects an overall vision for Pennsylvania,” Irvin said. “As we move forward, adjustments may and will be made to address concerns while keeping the taxpayers of Pennsylvania in mind.”
Gov. Tom Wolf has publically said that a tax increase is necessary to balance this year’s budget, something Republican lawmakers have so far rejected.
“It always amazes me when my Republican colleagues go to Harrisburg saying they are going to lower taxes,” Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, said. “Their way to prosperity is making it more difficult on the people who need social services and at the end of the day, this is an assault on the people of Pennsylvania.”
If the GOP House bill becomes law, Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins said the county will be forced to make difficult decisions to cut non-mandated services, but what services might be cut and by how much has not been discussed.
The bill is now in the Republican-controlled Senate, where negotiations are ongoing. If the senate sends a bill to Wolf’s desk with cuts to judicial and human services, Conklin said it will likely be vetoed.
Wolf and the state legislature have until July 1, the start of the fiscal year, to finalize a spending plan.