As I write this, the budget process is underway and the 2012-13 state budget is beginning to take shape.
I have stood with my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus and demanded restoration of funding in many of the state’s essential programs that saw drastic cuts in last year’s budget. We have made it clear what our priorities are and have stood up to the Administration to make it known that these deep cuts will not be tolerated. Our voices have made a difference.
On May 9, the Senate passed a revised version of the state’s fiscal 2012-13 spending plan that was first introduced by the Governor in February. While not the final budget, Senate Bill 1466 (SB 1466) is a step in the right direction as it represents a positive shift in the priorities. In the weeks to come, many negotiations will take place and SB 1466 will be used as a base to shape what the final budget will look like in the end.
This bill is simply a starting point that all members can work with to reach a compromise.Many of the key areas that I have demanded restoration for are addressed in SB 1466.
This legislation provides $50 million for Accountability Block Grants which were zeroed out in the Governor’s proposal.
These block grants are used by school districts for kindergarten and pre-school programs, as well as after school tutoring programs. SB 1466 provides $50 million for basic education and restores funding to PreK Counts Program and Head Start Supplemental Assistance at 2011-12 levels.
This legislation also restores some major funding to human services programs, including hospitals and nursing homes and adds $10 million for persons with disabilities.
Almost a complete restoration of funding for state institutions of higher education will take place under the revision as well as an additional $8 million was allocated for Pennsylvania Higher Education Agency Assistance (PHEAA) grants for students.
As the General Assembly moves forward in the process, I will continue to fight for basic education, financial assistance through grants for students seeking higher education, job creation, as well as nonprofits that desperately need funding.
I also hope the final budget agreement will address the issues raised when combining the seven human services programs into a single block grant.
SB1466 now heads to the House of Representatives, where further negotiations will take place between Representatives and the Governor. I encourage you to continue to reach out to the Governor and House members about your priorities.
The fight is not over and much work remains but this revised budget shows that our voices have been heard and reflects a positive shift in priorities that citizens across our state have demanded.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
42nd Senatorial District