Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pennsylvania Governor Calls for Autism Funding Hike

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell today proposed a $27.3 billion budget that includes $2.3 million for autism services. You can read the governor's press statement on his 2007-2008 budget proposal here.

Now this is a modest line item in a big state budget. And you have to wade through many other issues -- a proposed sales tax hike, a higher tax on oil companies doing business in Pennsylvania, a health care plan, property tax relief and education spending among them -- before you find the autism services bullet point. But it does represent a 65 percent increase over the current fiscal year, according to the Democratic governor's statement.

For parents and families of people with autism, the budget plan is a big deal, according to the Pittsburgh-based group AutismLink.com. (Read more about AutismLink, the group which opened the Autism Center of Pittsburgh, here.) The group issued a bulletin to its e-mail subscriber list with the statement that said in part:
This is indeed a momentous occasion -- we finally have a home. Today, Governor Rendell and Secretary [of Public Welfare] Estelle Richman announced the Office of Developmental Programs which will house the Bureau of Autism Affairs. What's more? WE HAVE A BUDGET! ... Thanks to all of you who responded to our rallying cries to write to your legislators. Our efforts have paid off. Things will change for the better in Pennsylvania under the leadership of Nina Wall Cote.
It's not surprising that the autism advocacy community in Pennsylvania would be pleased with Nina Wall Cote's involvement. In 2005, Gov. Rendell announced the state would dedicate $3 million to improve diagnostic and treatment services for people with autism. (Read a statement here.) At that time, Cote was named the state's first director of autism services. Now she will get a budget if Rendell's proposal wins approval.

Another reason for optimism: The Pennsylvania House recently elected a Speaker whose nephew has autism and who has identified autism services as a priority. (See story here.)

The Associated Press reports today that the Republican Senate leadership in the state legislature is looking askance at Rendell's proposed sales tax hike, among other things. (Read the news story here, via The Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre.)

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