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July 11, 2014 By:
Jewish Communal Concerns Come Out OK in State Budget
The state budget that Gov. Tom Corbett approved on Thursday included cuts in funding for the General Assembly — through his use of line-item vetoes — but was not as hard on nonprofit organizations and state agencies as some in the Jewish communal world had feared, leaders said.
“I have to say it was not as bad as we thought it could be,” said Kristen Rantanen, a senior vice president with JEVS Human Services, which provides career training and other support for adults. “Most of the line items that fund us directly are flat or up slightly.”
But Rantanen and others said they still have concerns that the financial projections on which lawmakers are basing the budget appear overly optimistic. Democrats had called for increasing taxes on the natural gas industry and sale of tobacco products, but Corbett, who approved the budget 10 days after the budget-passage deadline, instead used stopgap measures to close a $1.5 billon deficit, critics say. Corbett also cut $72 million from the legislature's funding.
“I think the challenge for human service providers is we have to hope the revenue projections are realized so there isn’t some sort of midyear budget revision,” said Rantanen.
The budget did not cut funding to the education tax credit programs through which business donate toward scholarships for students to attend private schools or public schools outside their district. Concern that the $100 million Educational Improvement Tax Credit and $50 million Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit programs could be on the chopping block prompted Jewish day school students, parents and educators to visit Harrisburg in June to lobby for the programs.
“There are Jewish programs that would not be around if it were not for EITC,” Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition director Hank Butler said of the program that has distributed all of its funding each year. “There’s a backlog of companies that would like to get into the program, and if the demand is there, we need as much money as possible.”
The state also maintained funding for the State Food Purchase Program, which subsidizes the Jewish Relief Agency and Mitzvah Food Project, said Brian Gralnick, director of the Center for Social Responsibility at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
“Of course we want funding for those programs to go up because the need is increasing every day as food costs are rising and we have challenges that are increasing,” Gralnick said. “But frankly, sometimes the fact that this funding is not going down is somewhat of a victory.”