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Pa. General Assembly Approves State Budget

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Pennsylvania's General Assembly has signed off a nearly $27.2 billion budget.

Republicans, who control the legislature, hailed the state budget for not increasing state taxes, for cutting spending by $1.2 billion and for being the first budget in eight years approved on time.

But funding for public education is taking a big hit. State funds are a billion dollars less than last year.

"It's going to be devastating," says Butch Santicola from Pennsylvania State Education Association. "You talk to any superintendent, any of the people involved in public education, the loss of those funds will have a devastating impact on school districts."

In this region, all school districts are losing state funding, but some more than others.

Pittsburgh loses $25.7 million. Woodland Hills loses $3.9 million. Connellsville Area loses $3.7 million. Penn Hills and Butler Area lose $3.1 million each.

Other school districts with major cuts include McKeesport and New Castle Area with $2.9 million each, Albert Gallatin Area with $2.4 million, Armstrong with $2.2 million and Laurel Highlands and Ringgold each with $2.0 million cut.

"It's going to be tough for districts not to raise taxes," says Santicola. "That's my perception. That's what I see coming down the road."

The State System of Higher Education, with local schools like Clarion, IUP, Slippery Rock, and California, took an 18 percent hit in state support, while Pitt and Penn State saw their state funding cut 19 percent. Most predict tuition increases to make up the loss.

Other budget losers include Community and Economic Development cut 35 percent, Conservation and Natural Resources cut 33 percent, Environmental Protection cut 7 percent and Public Welfare cut a half a percent.

Some taxpayers question cutting these programs while letting Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers go untaxed.

"I believe our resources as they are used by out of state companies and for profit companies I believe they should pay a fee," says Mardi Isler from Pittsburgh Association for Education of Young Children.

It looks like the debate over a Marcellus Shale tax has been put off until the fall.

But, as expected, the 14 state-related universities have just announced a 7.5 percent hike in tuition this fall.

Even with this hike, educators say the budget cuts will leave the system with a $33 million gap.

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