County Commissioners: “Commonwealth proposes a tax increase budget”
The County Commissioners of Pennsylvania (CCAP) today expresses grave concerns with HB 218, the proposed 2017-2018 commonwealth budget under consideration today by the Pennsylvania House.
Far from being a “no-tax-increase” budget and far from being a document that provides a path forward for the commonwealth, it instead represents a continuing pattern of the state failing to meet its full responsibility to its service delivery partners and its citizens most in need.
The proposal contains sweeping cuts in funding for human services, criminal justice, and administrative programs that counties perform on the commonwealth’s behalf, amounting to millions of dollars. All are statutory mandates, and so the only option locally will be to increase the local tax burden – the property tax. Compounding the effect, the cuts will fall in the middle of the county fiscal year, which raises the specter of service interruptions as counties adjust to mid-year cuts.
The proposal fails to recognize that funding is tied to outcomes. By way of example, we have been making progress toward removing our mentally ill from the criminal justice system and into community settings, but the budget proposal cuts the funding that supports this change. We have been improving our spectrum of public safety but the budget proposal cuts support of both the courts and adult probation.
Funding is a tangible reflection of policy choices, and so the array of cuts being proposed signals the commonwealth’s failure to recognize its commitment to needed support and needed reforms.
Line items to be eliminated include juvenile probation services ($18.9 million); adult probation services ($16.2 million); intermediate punishment treatment programs ($18.2 million); county trial reimbursement ($200,000); senior judge reimbursement ($1.4 million); and court interpreter county grants ($1.5 million).
Line items to be decreased include county court reimbursement (reduced by $3.5 million); jurors cost reimbursement (reduced by $168,000); mental health services (reduced by $5 million from the Governor’s proposal for total cut of $19.6 million); behavioral health services (reduced by $4 million); Human Services Development Fund (reduced by $2 million); and homeless assistance (reduced by $2.8 million).
Counties ultimately are responsible for delivering all of these services, and counties recognize both a statutory and a moral commitment to do so to the best of their capacity. The commonwealth must do the same. While the proposal before the House today is only the first step in legislative consideration of 2017-2018 funding, it represents a starting point that counties cannot support.
Plainly and emphatically, the lack of adequate funding from the commonwealth will mean local tax increases to maintain services. This is clearly not a no-tax-increase budget. Any vote for this budget is a vote for property tax increases.