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Environment & Energy

Pennsylvania Environmental Group says State Budget is a Mixed Bag

Citizen-based group PennEnvironment is applauding state lawmakers for working to restore funding to a couple of programs that had been on the chopping block in Governor Tom Corbett's initial budget proposal. Still, the group isn't over the moon about the recently-passed spending plan.

"The best you can say about the budget when it comes to the environment is it could have been a lot worse. Fortunately there were a number of rollbacks that were passed as part of the budget," said PennEnvironment Director David Masur.

That includes the restoration of funding to the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, which works to maintain historic sites, state parks, communities and other things. Another program saved from the chopping block was the Farmland Preservation Program. Masur said lawmakers were able to use tax breaks for Royal Dutch Shell as a bit of a bargaining tool.

"The legislature said, if you want the tax break, we want to protect our farmland, and part of that is making sure we have a vibrant and secure farmland preservation program," he said.

Those tax breaks are a sticking point for the group. The budget gives Royal Dutch Shell a 25-year tax break as enticement for bringing a cracker plant to Beaver County. Masur said the company saw more than $31 billion in profits last year, and said Pennsylvania's tax breaks amount to corporate welfare.

"It's hard to be promoting austerity for all of us and then turn around and say, 'Oh, but when it comes to rich, multi-national companies that are making more in profits in a year than the entire state budget for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, oh, well, we'll throw as much money as needed to bring them here,'" added Masur.

PennEnvironment is also unhappy about cuts to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The $27.7 billion budget eliminates nearly $12 million in General Fund dollars. It also cuts $2.5 million from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.