NEPA officials help shape state budget
HARRISBURG - After Gov. Tom Corbett unveils a proposed state budget this week, a handful of influential Northeast Pennsylvanians will play key roles in shaping the final budget for passage at the end of June.
The Republican governor is expected to address the continued strain on state finances as increased costs for public pensions and medical assistance outpace state tax revenue growth amidst a slow economic recovery.
The legacy of Corbett's earlier budgets - particularly cuts to education spending in 2011 as federal stimulus money ended - provide a framework for a debate over spending priorities taking place in a politicized climate. The governor, House lawmakers and senators representing even-numbered districts are up for election this year.
Corbett goes before lawmakers Tuesday with almost half
(48 percent) of voters viewing him somewhat or strongly unfavorably, according to a new Franklin and Marshall College poll. Almost one in five (19 percent) of voters less than pleased with the way the governor is doing his job say it's due to education cuts. The poll of 580 registered voters was conducted between Jan. 22 and Jan. 27 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Eight lawmakers from Northeast Pennsylvania stand on the front lines of the budget debate through membership on the Senate and House appropriations committees. The two committees will start budget hearings Feb. 10 that will continue into early March. The final budget will need committee approval before reaching the respective chamber floors.
Sens. David Argall, R-29, Tamaqua; Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp.; John Blake, D-22, Archbald; John Gordner, R-27, Berwick and John Yudichak, D-14, Nanticoke, sit on the Senate panel.
Reps. Karen Boback, R-117, Harveys Lake; Mike Carroll, D-118, Hughestown and Mike Peifer, R-139, Honesdale, sit on the House panel.
A trio of Corbett cabinet officials from Northeast Pennsylvania - Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Ellen Ferretti - are scheduled to testify before those committees.
State Attorney General Kathleen Kane, of Waverly Township, will appear before the committees to urge support for programs to tackle street crime and crack down on child predators.
Meuser has a key role to ensure that Pennsylvania's budget is balanced between revenue and spending. That means getting advice from firms like Global Insight on how economic forecasts will affect revenues and tracking revenue collections on a monthly basis from more than 30 state taxes, including the three mainstay state taxes - the personal income tax, corporate income tax and sales tax, he said.
As the June 30 budget deadline approaches, Meuser will issue the official revenue estimate which in these tight fiscal times can indicate whether any wiggle room exists for a program to get an eleventh-hour spending boost. He said the state is on target to meet the revenue estimate set last June. The upcoming hearings offer lawmakers an opportunity to exercise oversight over the executive branch.