By Evan Brandt, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pottstown would get the least additional state funding and Spring-Ford the most under an alternative budget plan adopted Wednesday by the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
The plan would restore a total $4.7 million to nine area school districts.
According to state Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist., who sits on that committee, the House budget proposal will go to the floor for a vote of the full House sometime during the week of May 23.
“We’re not in session the week of the 16th because of the primary election,” Quigley explained.
He said the budget plan, which is actually an amendment to the budget proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett, was adopted Wednesday by a “party-line vote” of 22-13 in the Appropriations Committee.
“We actually gut and replace the governor’s budget,” under the House proposal, Quigley said.
The House budget does not change the overall $27.3 billion state spending level Corbett proposed, but returns some state funding both to public schools and state universities and affiliates by cutting $450 million from the Welfare budget.
Quigley said the Appropriations Committee believes the funding can be cut because of reports it received as recently as two years ago from Auditor General Jack Wagner that an error rate of more than 4 percent exists in the claims paid out to Welfare recipients.
“The key to all this will be whether the governor and the Senate buy into the cuts in the Welfare budget,” Quigley said.
In the meantime — as this second set of the stately dance that is budgeting in Harrisburg gets under way — school boards in the greater Pottstown area have been frantically cutting away at their budgets in an attempt to balance numbers after the severe cuts proposed in Corbett’s budget.
Just this week, the Pottsgrove and Perkiomen Valley boards adopted tentative budgets that used a mix of tax hikes and cuts to balance their budgets, neither of which is entirely balanced yet.
The change in budgetary landscape represented by the House budget proposal may undermine some of the assumptions in those budget plans.
Final school district budgets are adopted in June and in the eight years of Ed Rendell’s administration, the party spilt between the governor’s office, House and Senate resulted in late budgets every year.
Republican control of both houses and the governor’s mansion have raised hopes of a state budget adopted by July 1, but as yet, education funding seems to be a major sticking point.
According to the Appropriations Committee numbers Quigley provided to The Mercury, the $902,091 the House plan would provide to Spring-Ford over Corbett’s plan is the biggest gain in the region.
With $825,913 returned, Phoenixville ranks second and Owen J. Roberts third with $789,965 more than Corbett’s budget.
Most other districts hovered between $572,157 more Boyertown would receive and the $342,646 additional Perkiomen Valley would have to close its budget gap under this plan.
In the basement would be Pottstown, which is looking at reducing music, arts, physical education and libraries affecting 46 positions in the region’s smallest district, which would receive only $268,894 more under the House plan.
That won’t go far in closing the nearly $2 million loss in state aid that cuts a hefty share out of the district’s proposed $51 million budget for the coming school year.
Quigley said the House budget matches the funding the districts received in 2008, which was the first year the “fairness formula” adopted by the Legislature began to help close the achievement gap between districts with crumbling tax bases and those with robust local finances.
The difference also highlights what the First Suburbs project has argued for the past 18 months, that state financial policies favor newer suburban communities at the expense of older, established towns — particularly in the areas of housing, infrastructure and education.