The chief lobbyist for Pennsylvania’s Jewish communities gave Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget address last week cautious optimism.
Cautious because Hank Butler knows much of what the governor proposes will require the privatization of state services that are by no means done deals.
And if they are to get done it has to be fast — by June 30 to be precise.
“This is a much better budget than we’ve seen in the past two years,” said Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. “Food subsidies are level; they have not gone down, which is good [though] I’d like to see it go up. … There is a lot of money for aging in place.”
Also, he noted that funding for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), which Jewish Pittsburgh takes advantage of to support its day schools, remains unchanged at $100 million.
But much of the budget’s proposed revenue is contingent on other things happening.
Much of Corbett’s budget proposal is contingent on the legislature limiting employer contributions to its pension plans.
Increases in spending for public education are tied to the privatization of the state liquor system.
And aging in place funding would come from the privatization of the Pennsylvania Lottery, “which really isn’t done yet,” Butler said. “It is still going through the attorney general’s office and the treasurer.
“That’s the biggest challenge,” he continued. “A lot of things have to come together. On the surface it’s a good budget; it’s not a fantastic budget, but under the situation of our economy, it’s a much better budget than in the previous two years; the challenge is a lot of things have to come together to get these things done in a relatively short amount of time.”
He was referring to the June 30 state deadline to pass a balanced budget.
Basically, it’s too soon to say which of the governor’s proposals will find support in the legislature, or how they will be changed, Butler said.
“Hearings will start in three weeks,” he said, “then we’ll get a better feel as to what the administration is doing, and we (the PJC) will weigh in more as things develop.”
Based in Harrisburg, the PJC is the lobbying arm for Pennsylvania’s 10 Jewish federations plus smaller independent communities. All told, it represents the interests of 500,000 Jews across the state, including 300,000 in Philadelphia and 40,000 in Pittsburgh.
On another matter, the PJC has approved general language outlining its position on the gun debate, which likely will play out in the legislature this year.
According to Butler, the PJC supports “increased firearm safety and oversight,” but won’t elaborate on that wording until it has a chance to parse the bills related to gun violence and gun control introduced this session.
“The idea is by having that language it won’t pigeonhole us,” he said. “I just want to see the bills — which we will support, support heavily, or be quiet on.
“We have to look at each bill individually,” he added. “We have to look at the chess board and see what we’re going to do with this stuff.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)