By Kevin Zwick
HARRISBURG (June 5) – The House approved several amendments to budget legislation to increase funding for items with bi-partisan support, including an education block grant used for full-day kindergarten and a land conservation program.
Negotiations continue this week as legislative leaders and the governor move toward a finalized budget. The budget bill is now on final consideration in the House.
Partisan lines were drawn on the restoration of the Accountability Block Grant program, as an amendment from House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware, proposed using $24 million from the basic education subsidy to increase the block grant funding to $100 million. His amendment was approved 116-81.
Adolph said the basic education funding used for the block grant would be $24 million of the $50 million the Senate set aside for distressed school districts, leaving $26 million in new funding in the basic education funding line, Adolph said.
The remainder of the funding for the block grant would come from the Department of Community and Economic Development: $14 million from the Commonwealth Financing Authority; $9.7 million from the Infrastructures and Facilities Improvement grants; $1.5 million from Discovered in PA, Developed in PA; and $811,000 from PA First.
House Democrats objected to taking the money out of basic education funding line.
House Education Democratic Chairman Jim Roebuck, D-Philadelphia, said the House shouldn’t be deciding “either or” between the block grants and basic education funding, but should be funding both.
Rep. Curtis Thomas, D-Philadelphia, said he recognized the importance of early education provided by the Accountability Block Grant, something he said helps to cut down on the “pipeline from high school to prison.” But he said the Legislature has a constitutional duty to fund public education.
Philadelphia, Chester-Upland, Harrisburg and other urban poor schools would benefit most from the distressed schools funding.
Another Adolph amendment that reversed Gov. Tom Corbett’s redirection of funding for the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, otherwise known as the Key ’93 Fund, was unanimously approved.
Corbett proposed permanently redirecting the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources share of the Key ’93 Fund to the General Fund, about $38 million. The Senate’s budget proposal restored half of the funding.
The same amendment also reversed Corbett’s proposed a $13.8 million redirecting of PHEAA money to the General Assembly and a $494,000 redirection of the State Restaurant Fund to the General Assembly.
The House also approved an amendment, 160-97, from Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, to transfer $17 million of the DCED’s transfer to the Commonwealth Financing Authority to restore state funding to the Department of Environmental Protection to 2010-11 budget level.
A number of amendments proposed by House Democrats were also approved for Medical Assistance Trauma Centers, Domestic Violence, Rape Crisis, Regional Cancer Institutes, Public Libraries and Child Care Services.
Democratic Appropriations Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, tried but failed on two motions to suspend a House rule that prohibits non-revenue neutral amendments from being offered for the budget bill, and to recommit the bill.