Budget squabbles could cost schools PlanCon payments

Jessica Schladebeck
  • York County Schools could lose between $5-6 million in state reimbursements

School districts across York County and beyond are awaiting repayments for construction and renovation projects through the state reimbursement system PlanCon, but this year's stalled budget has set aside no funding for the program.

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The partial budget Wolf approved in December did not include the $300 million in PlanCon funds the state is due to pay out this year.

Should that line item remain at zero by the time budget negotiations wrap, York County Schools could lose between $5 million and $6 million in reimbursements for their various construction and renovation projects, said Dallastown Area School District business manager Donna Devlin.

Dallastown is anticipating approximately $850,000 in PlanCon reimbursements for the 2015-16 year, she said.

"I don't know how we'd reconcile being out almost $1 million," Devlin said. "In the end that burden could be forced on the schools and the taxpayers."

PlanCon back-up: In 2012, then-Gov. Tom Corbett declared a moratorium on PlanCon, citing a lack of money following the recession. Only a year later, the state had come to owe more than $1 billion to districts statewide for already-approved construction projects and ultimately developed an ever-growing back log of projects.

The moratorium — after about two years — was lifted briefly, but when Wolf took office in January, rumors arose that PlanCon and its funds would again be frozen until further evaluation could take place.

Districts across the commonwealth were then encouraged to submit any construction projects before the end of June if they were looking to apply for the state-funded reimbursements.

Wolf on July, 1 then enacted another year-long moratorium after vetoing a school code bill which had called for changes in the PlanCon program, specifically a borrowing plan to cover the state obligations for those projects currently in the pipeline.

Borrowing: The original GOP budget first presented over the summer hinged on borrowing upwards of $5 billion to pay off the 500-plus projects under the PlanCon umbrella and in turn, redirected the $306 million Wolf had earmarked for construction reimbursements.

Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, who has also developed legislation to modernize the PlanCon application process for schools, said some of the budgetary disagreements can be traced back to the reimbursement program.

"When the governor said we cut education by $95 million it's because our proposal did not include payment for PlanCon reimbursements" as they were intended to be covered by bonds, Grove said.

In a second attempt at a school code bill, the Senate passed a bill which calls for similar changes to the PlanCon program.

It would authorize $2.5 billion of borrowing through the Commonwealth Financing Authority to cover the state's obligations for open projects, and it also proposes a PlanCon Advisory Committee to review the current PlanCon program by November.

The PlanCon proposal was also recently included in a fiscal code bill that was approved by the House but has been sitting in the Senate for more than a month, Grove said.

"That needs to pass," he said. "If that doesn't pass, the reality is those 2015-16 payments may not be happening."

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.