Gov. Tom Corbett
Gov. Tom Corbett (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

If he has followed the polls over the past three years, Gov. Tom Corbett probably knows he can't please all the people all the time.

The budget he proposed Tuesday was no exception, as York County's Republican legislators say there's too much spending and the county's only Democrat says there's not enough spending for education. None of them are pleased that the governor's budget, an election-year proposal that represents the most spending ever from Corbett's administration, is balanced through the use of one-time transfers that can't be sustained for future years.

After years of criticism for cuts to education and human services, Corbett proposed a $24.9 billion budget that increases expenditures by 3.3 percent. Human services and education are among the winners, with new grant programs directed at schools and expansion of human services.

Trying to satisfy: Majority Whip Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said Corbett might have been "trying to match up with the criticism" about cuts in previous years, though Saylor said he believed that is a futile act, as some people across the aisle "always want more."

The budget doesn't propose any new taxes, something Democrats will have to do if they want more education funding, Saylor said.

"Let's be honest," he said. "We're at about what we can spend now. Any additional spending ... they're going to have to say the dirty (phrase), and that's 'increase taxes.'"

Corbett's proposed means of paying for the extra $1.2 billion in spending in his proposal drew ire from Republicans and Democrats, with measures including delayed Medicaid payments and paying for teachers' pensions through the transfer of money from a settlement fund paid by tobacco companies.

"This is not the worst budget to be proposed by far," Saylor said. "But I'm not sure if I was governor that I would have proposed such a high spending level."

Saylor said he's fine with leaving the education budget as proposed, but he wants to look for an alternative means to fund increased expenses and look for ways to cut from the Department of Public Welfare.

Needs work: Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said the governor's budget is "a good starting point," but "not a final budget that should be passed as-is."

He's concerned about future budget years, including how the state can sustain a 3.3 percent increase in overall spending, higher than the rate of inflation, and the transfer of special funds to cover expenses.

"I'm a little worried over the revenue source the governor listed ... as $225 million from cash reserves and investments from the tobacco settlement ... for a one-year reduction in the Commonwealth pension obligation," Grove said. "On the investment side, that's not cash. It's pulling money out of investments. That is not easy."

Passing pension reform soon could reduce or eliminate the need to use the cash reserves, Grove said, and he's hoping the legislature can move on the issue to avoid using one-time sources of revenue.

Kill the goose: Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said the proposal includes a lot of transfers to balance the budget without having to consider cuts or raising taxes.

This year's "tenuous" budget is the result of Corbett's cutting taxes for corporations over the past three years, Schreiber said.

"The overriding principle is we cut taxes when we couldn't afford to ... and now we're pulling money from other places," he said.

Schreiber said more money is needed for education, and local school boards will end up having to fill in the gaps by raising local property taxes where the state funding falls short.

"We can't boast about a no-tax-increase budget if it means passing the tax increases onto a local level," he said. "We need to broaden that tax base across the whole state and fund education."

The Department of Corrections gets a higher percentage increase than education, Schreiber said.

"I would venture that a dollar spent in education versus a dollar spent in Corrections, you get more of a return on your investment with education," he said.

Schreiber said a severance tax on natural gas drillers in the Marcellus Shale would be one means of generating more revenue for education, but that idea isn't popular with Republicans.

Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, said a severance tax would amount to "killing the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg."

The unemployment rate has improved, and the state's economy is growing with shale drilling as a major factor, he said.

"The question becomes, 'Do you drive out the industry that's actually improving the economy?'" Miller said. "There's natural gas in other (states). If we went to an extraction tax, it would slow the growth of jobs, and companies would stop drilling as much."

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.