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Republicans Juggle Deficit, Pandemic And Schools In Budget

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania are working to assemble a budget plan that would use billions in federal pandemic relief and surplus state tax dollars to help prop up existing programs, boost aid to public schools and inject cash into sectors hard-hit by the pandemic.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, said the state's finances are under extreme pressure to meet growing demands on the state's health care and human services, in particular long-term care for the elderly.

Even maintaining current programs by using all of the $7.3 billion from the American Rescue Plan bill signed by President Joe Biden in March and $3 billion in surplus state tax collections over the next three years will leave Pennsylvania with a deficit, Browne said.

While Republicans are behind closed doors considering which hard-hit sectors to help with the federal aid, Democratic lawmakers have rolled out expansive plans to use it, including things like improvements to school technology and aging school buildings, or grants for housing programs and frontline workers.

Highway builders, hospitals, nursing homes, affordable-housing advocates, violence-prevention advocates and others are also seeking a share for their causes.

Then there is Gov. Tom Wolf's top priority that Republicans say they are trying to accommodate. The Democrat has asked the Republican-controlled Legislature for a $1.35 billion boost in aid to public school operations, or 20% more.