Jewish leaders taking ‘wait and see’ approach to proposed budget
Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2011-2012 budget, which would cut spending by more than 3 percent, potentially could significant affect programs and services in the Jewish community,
Local leaders, however, are taking a “wait and see” approach to the proposed spending plan, which must still make its way through both houses of the legislature.
“As of now, the governor’s budget proposal is in the third inning of a nine inning baseball game,” said Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, referring to the fact that the budget process has only just begun, and that the final budget ultimately adopted by the legislature could look very different.
While Butler has “some concerns” over some of Corbett’s proposed cuts, he believes that, overall, Corbett’s budget provides a “strong start.”
“I was bracing for a more problematic start for the budget process,” Butler said.
Specialists from the Jewish Federations are taking a close look at the budget, Butler said, scrutinizing the potential effects on such areas as day care, food pantries, and aging, and will come up with recommendations.
“This is the starting gate,” he said. “Once we go through looking at the budget with the specialists from the Jewish Federations, we can get a game plan, and figure out what we have to do. We will get a list of the programs that are important to us. Then the issue will be educating our elected officials on the need for these programs,” Butler said.
The budget unveiled by Corbett last week proposed deep cuts in education and the elimination of about 1,500 state jobs, but no new taxes.
School districts would face a huge cut, losing $1.1 billion in funding, including $550 million in basic education spending and $2.4 million for preschool funding. Funding for state universities would decrease by 50 percent.
But the budget would restore funding for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program —which was cut last year — to its 2009 level. The EITC program allows businesses to get a tax credit for providing monies that make educational choices more affordable to needy families.
While it is still early in the budget process, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh will be monitoring the potential impact on its various agencies.
“We’re really monitoring the process as it unfolds,” said Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, who noted that “all our agencies receive some funding from the state.”
Likewise, a spokesperson for the Republican Jewish Coalition says it is too early to predict the effect of the budget on Jewish interests.
“It’s hard to say what the impact will be until this all shakes out,” said Scott M. Feigelstein, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Pennsylvania/S. New Jersey. “It’s going to be tough times for everyone.”
“The Republican Jewish Coalition recognizes that Pennsylvania has a $4 billion budget deficit to close, and that difficult choices must be made by the Governor and the state legislature,” he continued. ”The Jewish community, like all Pennsylvanians, will be impacted by these challenging economic times. This is a time for shared sacrifice and fiscal restraint.”
The National Democratic Jewish Council does not have a chapter in Pennsylvania.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)