By Rep. Anita Kulik
As mandated by our Pennsylvania Constitution, the annual budget must be approved by June 30 of each year.
This year, as far too often happens, it was not approved on time.
It is a complicated process and many issues had to be debated.
Not only do we have the writing and then the approval of a general budget, but then we must enact various code bills that implement the provisions of the general spending budget.
It may be a week late, but the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year is complete. The House, Senate and Administration came to agreements on the various budget bills in a bipartisan fashion.
While the budget, as is always the case, does not provide everything that everyone wanted, it is a decent budget for the year. There are good amounts of funds that are being spent where needed and good amounts are being saved in the “rainy day” fund for future years.
A particular point of tension in the negotiations was the funding for state-related schools. This funding includes five universities, among them the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University. The majority party in the House wanted to eliminate the funding to these two schools for reasons unrelated to the purpose of the funding. The “non-preferred” funding, as it is called, goes to the schools so that they can provide in-state student tuition discounts.
Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with what is being done at these universities is, to me, irrelevant to the purpose of the funding, which is to provide tuition aid to students.
Too many families rely on this funding, and I, among many others, felt it was improper for these funds to be held back because of politics. Happily, after much argument in the House, the funding was approved.
Approximately $850 million more is being spent on education this upcoming year. In addition to monies for the districts from the “fair funding” formula, each district will receive $100,000 plus $15 per student for school safety measures from a $100 million fund set aside for school safety and mental health.
In addition, $60 million will be spent on pre-k programs and $19 million will go to the Pennsylvania Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.
Funding for public libraries will be increased. Increased funding has also been approved for state conservation districts for such things as conservation projects and flood control.
There are also additional monies to help municipalities with small water and sewer programs.
Proper nursing home funding has been a hot topic especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s budget has an increase of $150 million for nursing homes, to cover such things as increased staffing levels and other programs and costs.
I know that the care of our elderly, and others, in our nursing facilities is an important matter of concern for many families.
Local law enforcement will also receive increased spending to help support their departments and to help with investigations of gun violence.
There is also grant money for community violence prevention programs, something that several of my colleagues and I have advocated for, for several years. EMS providers are also receiving additional funding.
The property tax rebate program for seniors will also benefit from increased funding in the new budget. Many of our seniors have struggled with property tax bills, some of which have increased, and this additional funding will provide some relief.
While our infrastructure problems will not be solved through one budget cycle, the increased funding this year will be a proper step in the right direction.
There is so much more that is involved in the budget.
Again, increases were significant in many areas. Unfortunately, many of us believe that proper funding was not provided in other areas. But for any state to run successfully, compromise must be reached between all interested parties.
This budget is just that. It is a compromise that will prove to benefit many of the essential programs run through state, and thus benefits the citizens of our Commonwealth.