Waiting for the details of the budget to surface is a lot like waiting for a guilty or innocent pronouncement. The jury in this case is all Republican – leaders of the House and Senate and negotiators from the governor’s office. They will decide what gets cut and what survives. Keystone Research Center and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center have pulled together bits and pieces that have been picked up by the various intrepid Capitol newsroom reporters. From what they have gleaned it looks like state colleges and universities will receive level funding, some money that would allow kindergarten to survive in distressed schools has been restored, but the poorest among us get thrown to the wolves.
Few people, however, will really know what’s in and what’s out in the budget until the budget bill and the fiscal code are printed. Seasoned advocates working to preserve important programs know there can be some ugly surprises lurking there. If, for example, the budget deal includes anticipated revenue from leasing more state forestland for gas drilling, it will be buried in the fiscal code. If budget-makers have decided they must raid the Keystone Parks, Recreation and Conservation Fund, it will likewise be in the fiscal code language.
While a deal has been struck among Republican leaders and the governor, they still need to sell the package to rank and file members – not always an easy sell. The late Rendell budgets were often the result of members balking at the deals their leaders had made. Both the Keystone Fund and the farmland preservation program have the strong support of Republican members. After putting up a nasty vote for the dreadful drilling bill, many Republicans from moderate districts, especially in the southeast, cannot go home having voted to cut Keystone. And many Republicans who represent rural agricultural districts will have the same problem if the farmland preservation program gets cut. Advocates for both programs continue to wait nervously as neither of these has a friend in the governor’s office.
Regardless of the details, one thing will is clear. There will be painful choices in this budget. All members who vote for this budget will need to explain why they had to make cuts to vital programs while at the same time handing over more than $1 billion to one of the richest corporations on earth for a cracker plant.
Staffers in the appropriations committees will earn their pay this weekend as they crank out the legislation that will produce the budget. All the Democrats in the General Assembly, rank and file Republican members and the public will be waiting for this year’s budget verdict due to come out next week.