The $28.44 billion plan presented to a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday represents a 2.4 percent increase in spending over the current year’s budget. It aims to invest more funding in public education, public safety and human services while also working to streamline government operations.
“There’s no question the last few budget years have been pretty lean, and there are more tough decisions ahead,” Causer said. “The governor has given us a good place to start as we work toward adopting an on-time, fiscally responsible budget that prioritizes the core functions of government.”
Causer said he is encouraged by the governor’s plan to invest an additional $338 million in public education, including $90 million more in basic education funding. Other areas of the education budget, including special education and the Accountability Block Grant program, would stay at the same level as the current year, at $1.03 billion and $100 million respectively. The state’s higher education institutions, including the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, also would receive the same level of funding as the current year.
To boost public safety, the governor is proposing funding for 290 new state troopers and 90 dispatchers. In the area of human services, he proposes a $20 million investment to provide services for more people with intellectual disabilities.
To ensure access to health care in rural and other underserved areas, the budget proposal includes $4 million to support creating or expanding community-based health clinics and $1 million for the existing Primary Health Practitioner Loan Repayment Program to recruit providers in rural and underserved areas.
“While I am encouraged by these new investments in rural health care, I am concerned about a $500,000 proposed cut in the budget line for critical care hospitals, which also supports health care in rural areas,” Causer said. “This proposal is just a starting point for the budget process, and there is much work to be done.”
The details of the governor’s budget will be reviewed and discussed by lawmakers over the next several months, starting on Feb. 19 when the House Appropriations Committee convenes three weeks of budget hearings to gather testimony from state agencies and department heads. A final budget must be adopted by the end of the current fiscal year, June 30.