Barrar’s town hall: budget takes center stage

Residents ask questions on a wide range of issues, but the bottom line reigns supreme

By Mike McGann, Editor,

State Rep. Steve Barrar (R-160) answers questions from local residents during Wednesday night's Town Hall session at the Chadds Ford Municipal Building.

CHADDS FORD — Gov. Tom Corbett’s new budget may or may not be popular, but it sure seems to have gotten people’s attention.

A Town Hall meeting hosted by State Rep. Steve Barrar (R-160) Wednesday night at the township building was packed with people who had questions about everything from nuclear plant safety to the Marcellus Shale Gas Field to proposed cuts in education funding. But it was the budget and state and local fiscal issues that dominated the lively,  but civil, two-and-a-half hour session.

Joking a bit about the “300 emails a day I get about the governor’s ‘horrible’ budget,” Barrar said he understands that people have questions and concerns about the budget, prompting such a robust turnout Wednesday night.

“I kind of have a feeling it’s probably the reason for part of the turnout that we have tonight,” Barrar said. “This is probably one of the better turnouts I’ve had in the last five or six years of doing these town meetings.”

In Corbett’s defense, Barrar, a fellow Republican, said that the new governor was put in a difficult situation coming into office, inheriting a fiscal mess from outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell.

“We had a governor who is leaving, who spent too much and left the commonwealth in a position of having a $4 billion deficit,” Barrar said. “We lost billions of dollars this year in federal stimulus money, that’s simply not going to be there this year.”

In short, the governor was faced with many difficult choices in putting together his first budget, Barrar said, and had to do it immediately after taking office. And while there were cuts across various state programs, including the end of the AdultBasic health insurance program, education funding took the brunt of the budget cuts — in part because of the loss of federal stimulus funds.

“Education took the bulk of the cuts that the governor put forth,” Barrar told the audience. “A big part of the education was the loss of the stimulus money. The governor (Rendell) put over $700 million into education. Two years ago, you may remember we went 101 days late with the budget. That was a result of we, the house Republicans, did not want to vote for a budget that gave this money (stimulus funds) to education, into the basic education formula, which we knew, we warned our school directors and our superintendents that that money was a two-year gift.

“At the end of the two years, they all knew that money was going to go away. There’s not a superintendent in this state that didn’t know that this year, all of that stimulus money that they received over the past two years was going to dry up.”

That, Barrar said, makes the cuts look worse than they are.

“It looks like the governor is cutting basic education funding by about 10%,” he said. “If you took out the stimulus money, it’s actually about a 5% cut.”

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