Commission rep says human services could be hurt under proposed budget

BROOKVILLE — As Gov. Tom Corbett delivered his budget proposal Tuesday, Doug Hill, the executive director for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) predicts the budget for fiscal year 2012-13 to be a “watershed budget.”

The state is anticipating a $500 million deficit resulting from the current fiscal year, which could call for a complete restructuring of programs.

“The long-term economic trend shows some improvement, but not back to 2007 levels any time soon,” Hill said during a visit with Jefferson County Commission Chairman Paul Corbin and Commissioner Jeff Pisarcik.

The no-tax pledge taken by Corbett will translate into drastic cuts statewide, Hill said.

“We’ve already done all the low-hanging fruit, so if we’re going to cut any more, that’s going to mean restructuring the programs,” he said. “So this could really mean deliberations on rapid change in how services are provided.”

According to Hill, budgets for individual counties, including Jefferson County, come directly from the Commonwealth or from the federal government through the Commonwealth, which is in recognition to the fact that a large part of the services provided are mandated by the state and federal government.

Hill predicts that the state’s 67 counties will feel the biggest impact locally in the human services field.

Hill said he’s not sure if human services will receive the most cuts; however, it is the area that has the “greatest impact” on a county’s budget.

“The first reason is because of it’s sheer volume, and the second is that a good portion of those programs are non-discretionary, or have limited discretion,” he said.

Hill used Children & Youth Services, considered an entitlement program, as an example.

“Any child who needs service, we serve, period,” he said. “Whether the money is there or not, we have to address their needs. And when there is underfunding, even though it doesn’t have a direct budget impact, it still has important community impacts.”

CCAP is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan association that represents all 67 Pennsylvania counties.

The organization meets with state departments to discuss issues important to every county.

A multi-agency endeavor is currently underway to address equal justice for those seeking public defense in small counties.

“If you have a capital case that comes out of nowhere, it can be hugely expensive and can wreck your budget if it lands mid-year,” Hill said.

“In well-off Montgomery County, a public defender may be a little bit better funded than a public defender in Cameron County, so is that constitutionally equal justice?”

He also said that a majority of states contribute to public defense, and believes if Pennsylvania were to move in this direction, it would have a “positive impact” on a county’s budget.

Corbin said he would be in favor of this, and said it would be a “good idea” especially since Jefferson County’s District Attorney Jeff Burkett tried a capital murder case against Steven P. Rebert in January.