Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's first stab at a budget for this year left the education community shaking. The Republican had balanced the budget in part through deep cuts not only to the state's colleges and universities but also to school districts. That's terrifying news for a state where some districts are already considering ending kindergarten to balance budgets.
Miraculously, thanks to unexpectedly high tax collections, the state's schools have been spared the chopping block. But Corbett's other proposal, major funding cuts for human services, still looks alive and kicking.
State lawmakers only have until Saturday if they want to pass a budget on-time. Over the weekend, according to The Patriot News, the governor and GOP leadership agreed to spend $26.66 billion—$1.5 billion more than Corbett's initial draft.
But the governor is pushing the legislature to approve a proposal that would combine several human services programs into single block grants. The change also come with a whopping 10 percent cut in funding. (Corbett's original plan called for a 20 percent cut.) In addition to cutting support for the mentally disabled or the homeless, the plan also gives enormous latitude to counties, since funding once designated for specific populations will now all feed into the same stream. That means, for example, that money that once went to the mentally disabled population may now go to those struggling with addiction. According to Watchdog.org, such scenarios could leave some counties open to lawsuits.
Interestingly, it's Republican lawmakers who are pushing back. While the governor and Senate give the measure a thumbs-up, the Republican chair of the House Human Services Committee, Representative Gene DiGirolamo, vocally opposed such a dramatic change. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:
[T]he Republican chairman of the House Human Services Committee held a news conference opposing the block grants. Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, said the administration had not consulted with providers of services such as mental health care and treatment for drug and alcohol abuse -- or the people who receive them -- before proposing the change.
"This is a historic shift in the way we fund human services," he said. "I think we're moving way too fast. These are our most vulnerable citizens."
DiGirolamo himself isn't taking a hard-line—he's pushing for a pilot program to test the block grants. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that such block grants will be a mess if implemented in one dramatic move. Counties will take on more of the burden, while getting fewer resources to disperse. The state's providers are unprepared for the shift and logistics may well become a nightmare. But with time running short, such petty objections may not be enough to convince lawmakers.