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State lawmakers debate how to allocate surplus funds in budget

Matt Rourke

On today’s episode of The Confluence:

State surplus funds are under negotiation during this year’s budget process
(0:00 - 8:08)

By the end of this month, state lawmakers need to have a balanced state budget signed by the governor. But the question isn’t necessarily how to pay for everything: It’s what to do with the surplus funds.

Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature are debating how to divide those surplus funds before the end of June deadline. However, $2 billion allocated to the state through the American Rescue Plan must be spent by 2024.

“The governor [has] talked about throwing a certain million amount of dollars towards propping up small businesses, providing property relief for low income renters and homeowners, supporting the health care system and things like that,” explainsSam Dunklau, WESA’s Capitol Bureau Chief.

Dunklau says most economists have advised putting any money allocated through the American Rescue Plan to one-time projects, but as it is an election year, he expects much negotiation to come.

Pittsburgh launches its own syringe services program
(8:14- 22:30)

The opioid crisis is not easing. Here in Pennsylvania, although the number of drug fatalities dipped to below 4,500 in 2018 and 2019, overdose deaths jumped again above 5,000 in 2020.

The City of Pittsburgh announced last week that it will open its own needle exchange program later this summer, which will supplement work already being done by the nonprofit Prevention Point: distributing clean needles and syringes, collecting used drug paraphernalia, and connecting people with drug use disorders to other resources.

“Syringe service programs are needed widely because they save lives,” says Joshua Schneider, a paramedic and the Overdose Prevention Coordinator with the Office. “Very simply, the strategy we've taken to reduce overdoses, one that is based on punitive measures and incarceration, has not worked, and we've seen a record number of deaths because of that.”

Laura Drogowski, manager of Pittsburgh’s Office of Community Health and Safety, says the program will be funded with American Rescue Plan dollars and the city’s general fund.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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