Rendell pledges to save budget's CHIP funding

Posted: June 25, 2009

Gov. Rendell assured child health-care advocates yesterday that he would work to protect medical insurance for children from budget cuts in the face of a projected $3.2 billion deficit.

The governor pledged his support to the state's Children's Health Insurance Program during a news conference yesterday afternoon at the Loving Care Children's Learning Center in Folsom, and during an unusual forum with the state's top Republican that was televised last evening.

CHIP insures nearly 194,000 youngsters in the state. Rendell is lobbying the legislature to temporarily raise the personal income tax as a way to help ensure that CHIP and other programs don't face cuts proposed by Senate Republicans.

"If we have to be in Harrisburg until Christmas we will not cut health care for children," Rendell said in Folsom.

But Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said yesterday that the Senate's proposed budget for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1, includes the same amount of funding for CHIP that was allotted this year.

Senate Republican leaders and a majority of the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, are staunchly opposed to a tax hike.

Rendell said the 16 percent income-tax rate increase would amount to an additional $4.80 per week for families earning $50,000, raising about $1.5 billion each year. Four out of 19 Pennsylvanians and nonworking seniors would not pay the increase, he said.

Rendell has also instructed his cabinet to come up with cuts that total $500 million to help reduce the shortfall. He said he would review the cuts with the cabinet today.

The consideration of a stopgap budget to keep the government operating if a budget is not passed by the Tuesday deadline would wait until mid-July "crunch time" draws closer, Rendell said. State government loses its authority to issue its first paychecks of the new fiscal year on July 17.

Rendell and Joe Scarnati, the Republican Senate president pro tempore, defended their conflicting plans for balancing the budget before a statewide television audience last night. Neither yielded ground in separate interviews taped earlier in the day.

Scarnati, speaking as the legislature's ranking Republican although he also became lieutenant governor after the death of Catherine Baker Knoll, accused Rendell of using scare tactics to sell an assortment of new taxes to legislators.

"When you're selling snake oil, you need to really up the hype, and he has upped the hype to the point where this is like a nuclear doomsday," said Scarnati, of Jefferson County.

He said Pennsylvania should set an example by balancing its budget solely with spending cuts, as proposed in a bill passed by the GOP-controlled Senate.

Rendell said cuts must be accompanied by tax increases to avoid serious consequences, such as the layoffs of hundreds of state troopers and the loss of subsidized health care for children.

The governor, who faces resistance to his tax proposals even from some Democratic legislators, said he cited examples of how deep budget cuts would affect state services "to educate them [legislators], not to scare them, so they can make the choice."

The interviews were taped at the Harrisburg studios of WITF-TV for broadcasting on the state's public TV stations.

Rendell has proposed $29 billion in spending for the next year, while the GOP bill would hold spending to $27.3 billion. GOP leaders have acknowledged that because of the growing projected shortfall, the spending cuts they propose are more than $1 billion shy of what is needed to balance that budget.

Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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