Wolf says GOP budget would idle 1,500 Pa. staff

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania's Democratic governor warned Friday that the Republican budget proposal, which the House has approved, would put about 1,500 state employees out of work, with prisons in line for the deepest job cuts.

The administration produced an internal budget office analysis that indicated nearly 650 layoffs would occur at the Department of Corrections and more than 400 job losses at a consolidated Department of Health and Human Services.

The state's authorized workforce in the current budget year is about 81,000 people, but Gov. Wolf has proposed lowering that to about 78,000 for the year starting in July through attrition and elimination of vacancies.

The study's projected job cuts under the $31.5 billion budget that passed the House on Tuesday would be in addition to that and would amount to nearly 2 percent of the administration's workforce.

House Republicans pushed through their budget this week on a largely party-line vote - all Democrats and two Republicans voted no. The budget bill was sent to the Senate for its consideration.

The bill generally reduced administrative costs across government by 6.5 percent.

The estimates put out Friday by Wolf's budget office are the administration's effort to show what would happen if the House GOP budget were to be implemented.

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said the estimate was news to the caucus, but noted the proposed prison cuts were designed to "put pressure on the Department of Corrections to be innovative and make changes."

Asked whether he disputed the figure of about 1,500 layoffs, Miskin said he needed more information.

"Similar to the administration's budget proposal, we've not seen any details," Miskin said.

Wolf in February proposed a $32.3 billion budget that included a new tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production, and called for the consolidation of four state entities into what would be a new Department of Health and Human Services. He also wants to merge prisons with probation and parole.

Negotiations on a budget for the coming year between Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature will pick up momentum in the coming months, and the final product will undoubtedly be different than the bill that passed the House this week.

The governor and legislative leaders are dealing with a projected deficit of about $3 billion, and it's unclear whether they will lower expenditures, increase taxes or enact some combination of spending cuts and tax hikes.