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Surprise! State Budget Passes Without a Fuss
Protracted budget fights have been a mainstay of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's tenure in office. Last year's battle went into deep innings, creating months of fiscal uncertainty for some Jewish groups that depend on crucial state dollars.
But this year's negotiations with the General Assembly, Rendell's last, was settled on time -- albeit with one major wrinkle.
Jewish groups said that, all things considered, the finalized $28 million budget wasn't nearly as austere as first feared.
Early in the process, which was concluded on July 6, the proposed budget included a $10 million cut to the Education Improvement Tax Credit, which allows businesses to receive substantial tax credits on donations to public and private schools, including Jewish day schools.
Both the Orthodox Union and the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition lobbied hard to have the funding for the tax credits restored from $50 million to $60 million; it became clear only at the last minute that they had been successful.
Funding for the State Food Purchase program, which helps groups like the Jewish Relief Agency and the Mitzvah Food Project provide for Jewish families, dropped nominally, from $18 million to $17.8 million.
Hank Butler, executive director of the coalition, said that getting such a relatively minor cut counts as a victory. His group also called attention to the $250 million increase to K-12 public-education funding, which has been a hallmark of Rendell's platform throughout the years.
But Butler pointed out that the budget is contingent on Congress providing $850 million in Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentages; if that funding doesn't come through, the state will have to make it up in some other way.
Meanwhile, on July 2, the governor signed into law Senate Bill 928, known as the Protecting Pennsylvania Investments Act. The legislation requires the State Treasurer's office and public pension funds to divest from foreign-owned companies having dealings with Iran and Sudan.
The signing culminates a five-year lobbying effort -- one in which the Jewish community played a substantial role, both publicly and behind the scenes.
As the law is implemented -- the funds have 36 months to comply -- the issue becomes as to what extent the effort, coupled with new national and international sanctions, hamper Iran's effort to obtain nuclear weapons.