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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Legislator calls state budget deficit “worst he’s seen”

  • Faced with at least a $3 billion deficit this year, state legislators and the governor are scrambling to pass a budget that will close the widening red ink gap, while avoiding deep cuts to local services that residents rely on. Tax hikes are also under debate this week, as budget negotiations among state Democrats and Republicans enter the third week past a constitutional deadline.


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  • Faced with at least a $3 billion deficit this year, state legislators and the governor are scrambling to pass a budget that will close the widening red ink gap, while avoiding deep cuts to local services that residents rely on. Tax hikes are also under debate this week, as budget negotiations among state Democrats and Republicans enter the third week past a constitutional deadline.
    “It is probably the worst I have ever seen,” said State Rep. Edward G. Staback, of the deficit, in a phone interview with The Wayne Independent on Monday from his Harrisburg office. “Next year doesn’t promise to be too much better.”
    The Democratic legislator has represented Wayne and Lackawanna counties for 24 years, making his statement quite telling of the challenges ahead.
    Awful tax revenues tied to a pervasive economic downturn has indeed created a tizzy in the State Capitol, as Democrats and Republicans push in disparate ways to pass a balanced budget for next fiscal year which began this month, July 2009 - 2010.
    To alleviate the red ink, the state’s legislators face tough decisions on reducing funding for critical human services, courts, police enforcement, education, environment, and economic development programs, among others.
    This funding also greatly supplements programs ran by county governments, including mental health and mental retardation, children and youth, and probation departments, among others.
    Cuts here may send county and local governments, and school districts further scrambling for options that could include hiking property taxes to offset what the state used to provide, or other measures such as layoffs or a reduction in services.
    Wayne County officials did not return calls for comment by press time; about one-third of Wayne County’s $30.1 million budget this year comes from federal and state government sources, according to the budget. This money greatly supports human services programs, many of which are mandated by state law.
    At the July 7th Commissioners’ meeting, Andrea Whyte, director of Wayne County Human Services Agency, said that if there were budget cuts, they would adjust units of service offered.
    Staback said, “we want to make it as painless as we can,” of possible cuts, adding however that the state has to “tighten up” its spending.
    Major economic recovery is not expected until 2011, most economists predict. 
    Calls placed to Republican State Reps. Sandra Major and Michael Peifer, who both represent Wayne County, were not returned by press time.
    Legislators are additionally considering the option of raising certain taxes, or enacting new taxes, in order to alleviate program cuts and stymie the potential trickle down of local property taxpayers footing more of the bill for services.
    Gov. Ed Rendell proposed raising the state personal income tax rate to 3.57 percent from 3.07 percent, which would bring in an estimated $1.5 billion a year in revenue and prevent some cuts in state spending.
    Page 2 of 2 - “There are a good number of people here (in Harrisburg) who don’t want to do that,” said Staback, of the income tax hike.
    Other measures include raising the sales tax, placing a severance tax on natural gas extracted in the Commonwealth, or taxing smokeless tobacco, among other new revenue sources.
    A 2009 fiscal year budget plan pitched by state Senate Republicans slices funding - on a varying scale - for a slew of state, county and local level programs without increasing state taxes, according to the proposal that was approved strictly on a party-line vote.
    “Hopefully by the weekend, something positive will begin to develop,” said Staback

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