HARRISBURG - Senate Republicans on Friday said they wanted to amend the state budget and shift $200 million from education to address the looming state employee pension crisis.
In a letter to Gov. Rendell, Senate GOP leaders said that sum would be deducted from a $250 million increase in basic education funding in the 2010-11 budget.
The letter noted that Pennsylvania's total education spending uses $1 billion in onetime federal funding for schools but that the federal money will end this year.
"The new governor and next session's legislature will face the tremendous challenge with replacing the $1 billion with state revenues," leaders wrote. "Your proposal increases the height of that cliff by an additional $200 million."
The letter - signed by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R. Delaware), Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson), and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R., Centre) - said the state would still receive an additional $130 million in federal funding for schools.
Rendell spokesman Mike Smith said the governor did not have a comment on the proposal and awaited feedback from Senate Democrats and both parties in the House, where Democrats hold a majority.
The GOP's letter is in part a response to a proposal Rendell made this week to cut an additional $282 million from the current budget to cover a last-minute shortfall of federal aid. The gap was the result of a smaller funding package under the jobs and medical assistance legislation enacted by Congress this week.
The governor proposed 1.9 percent cuts across the board in agency funding, the legislature, courts, and independent offices, and a $50 million reduction in the state's basic education allotment.
In addition, he proposed using $70 million from a new natural gas extraction tax
Pileggi's spokesman, Erik Arneson, said Senate Republicans supported Rendell's proposal to use the $50 million in education funding to plug the budget hole and were working on ways to reduce the Senate's budget.
Arneson said discussions on the yet-to-be-approved shale tax would take place next month when the legislature returned.
The large spike in public pension costs, expected in 2012, is the result of a deal approved by the legislature and Gov. Tom Ridge in 2001. At that time, when the economy was strong, the state and school districts reduced payments into worker pension plans.
But the system was hit with record losses as the economy slumped, creating the crisis on the horizon.
Tim Allwein, assistant executive director for government relations for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said he was concerned about the Senate's proposal to take away the previously agreed upon basic education subsidy and replace it with federal funds that may only be used for personnel.
"It removes a flexible pot of money and replaces it with funding with a much more narrow allowable use," said Allwein.