HARRISBURG — Arguing that no Pennsylvanians — not even schoolteachers and their pupils — are recessionproof, Gov. Corbett said Wednesday that despite a recent uptick in revenue, his administration will think long and hard before rushing to restore steep cuts proposed in next year's state budget.
Corbett said that he understands some people are unhappy with the $27.1 billion budget he proposed for the fiscal year that starts July 1, which calls for slicing millions of dollars for higher education and sharply scaling back programs for the poor, elderly, and disabled. He said he, too, dislikes making such cuts.
But he said he wanted to proceed cautiously, even in light of recent news that the budget shortfall this year is less than originally predicted: about $300 million instead of $719 million.
Even with that fiscal breathing room, Corbett said, he does not want to leap to the conclusion that the numbers signify an economy on the permanent mend.
"I think we need to be very, very cautious," he said after a morning speech before the Harrisburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, adding that economic indicators were not showing strong growth.
Republicans who control the state Senate on Wednesday approved, 39-8, a $27.65 billion budget plan that would restore roughly $500 million in funding to Corbett's spending plan. That includes all the money Corbett is proposing to cut from funding for the 18 state-supported colleges and tens of millions of dollars in basic-education funding, including $50 million for distressed schools and $50 million for Accountability Block Grants that help pay for early-childhood education.
"This plan does not create a single new program, and it does not raise a single tax," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware).
But Corbett today called the additional $500 million the Senate wants "a ceiling."
"Would I consider putting some of that money in? Yes, I would consider it," he said. "But $500 million is a lot."
The Senate plan now goes to the House, where Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) agreed Wednesday with Corbett that the $500 million should be the upper limit. Still, he called the Senate's proposal "a good work product."
Though a surprising number of Democrats in the Senate voted to approve the alternative plan Wednesday, calling it a good first step, a core group of Philadelphia Democrats was not among them.
"I strongly urge my colleagues who voted for this budget today to take a second look under the hood," Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Phila.) said.
Outside the Capitol, Corbett's critics continue to cry foul over his spending priorities. This week, a little-known blogger from Pittsburgh sparked controversy with a column deriding the Pittsburgh Opera's decision to honor Corbett and his wife, Sue, for their support of the arts with an award being presented this weekend. The post by Jessie Ramey, a history professor and mother of two who writes about school funding, got plucked by other bloggers and sparked a small social-media frenzy. Her words drew 10,000 page views in 48 hours (she normally gets a few hundred) and led to an online petition asking the opera to rescind the award (it will not), along with plans for a protest at the Saturday event.
Ramey says Corbett's budgets have forced schools to make painful cuts in art, music and extracurricular activities. "This is not an anti-opera thing," she said Wednesday. "It's about what is going on in our public schools. The opera has made a very unfortunate choice to honor Gov. Corbett."
Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.