More money for colleges, less for welfare, top House Republican says


More money for higher education, less for public welfare.

That's the policy mantra that Republicans who control the House will push as they begin serious budget negotiations on Gov. Corbett's proposed $27.3 billion budget over the next few months.

Speaking to reporters Monday, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said his caucus wants to restore some of the funding for state-related universities and the system of higher education while slashing money for the Department of Public Welfare.

Turzai said the GOP will stick to Gov. Corbett's proposed $27.3 billion spending limit for the state budget, but will fight for switching some of that money around.

Example #1 of such a shift: "Do we think that welfare spending in [the governor's proposal] is too high? We do," Turzai said. "Do we think we need to look at some changes with respect to the state system of higher education? We do. We think it needs to go higher."

In the budget he unveiled last month, Corbett proposed eliminating $625 million, or 52 percent of state aid, for the 18 state-supported schools - Temple and Lincoln Universities among them. In the aftermath, stunned officials from those universities laid out bleak scenarios, saying that if the budget were adopted as proposed, students could expect a tuition increase, faculty and staff layoffs, and program cutbacks.

The governor did not, as expected, slash funding for many Public Welfare programs in his budget. Overall, in fact, he proposed keeping the department's spending roughly the same, at about $11 billion.

Turzai and his Republicans want to change that.

He said his caucus will be introducing a series of bills to "root out waste, fraud and abuse in welfare." He was scant on details but referenced, as one example, Auditor General Jack Wagner's oft-quoted audits revealing double-digit error rates for eligibility in Pennsylvania's Medicaid program. He also said Republicans will look at how so-called special-allowance programs, which are discretionary funds totaling about $200 million annually, are being spent.

"We are going to be putting forth good reforms that make sure that people who deserve it, get the hand up," said Turzai, "but to the extent that there is fraud and abuse, we need to root it out."

As for higher education, Turzai wouldn't say how much funding he is looking to restore.

"We're going to be working on that," Turzai said. "I can't give you a definitive figure, but that's going to be part of our hard work over the next few weeks."

And while it WON'T be a part of the budget talks, Turzai said not to count as dead the push to sell off the state's wine and liquor stores. He said he and governor's office are working feverishly on a proposal, and hope to have a bill compete by the end of the year.

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