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GOP budget proposal would cut $5 million to Harrisburg for fire services

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Every year since 2013, the City of Harrisburg has received a $5 million check from the state. Consider it the commonwealth's annual "Thank you" for the city supplying its fire department to the 40 state-owned buildings in and around the Capitol Complex.

The truth is, according to Harrisburg city officials, the $5 million appropriation is necessary to keep emergency services in the cash-strapped city afloat.

"If we don't have (the money), we would have to cut firefighters," said Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse. "We'd have to cut police officers."

In February, Governor Tom Wolf's budget proposal included $5 million for Harrisburg fire services, which is listed in line items as the "Capitol Fire Protection Plan."

However, when House Republicans introduced their own version of the state budget this week, the reimbursement plan was empty; no money proposed to go to the City of Harrisburg for the use of its fire department.

House GOP leaders say their bill begins a "government reinvention" by eliminating taxes. It spends $815 million less than Wolf's $32.34 billion plan.

Papenfuse insists though that the services provided by the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire is an "essential service," even though city firefighters are legally obligated to respond to all emergencies on Capitol ground, and therefore, it should be funded.

"The city is reliant on that (money). The city's recovery is dependent on that, and it shouldn't be subject to what it was before which was a haggle, or a barter," Papenfuse said.

FOX43 initially had an interview scheduled with House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York) to discuss why the Capitol Fire Protection reimbursement was cut. However, 15 minutes prior to the planned interview, it was canceled. House Republican spokesman Stephen Miskin said the cancellation was due to House session being in progress. However, no other caucus members were made available.

Miskin added that the city could make up the $5 million through a recently enacted local services tax increase, which taxes anyone who works within the city $3 per week.

The tax was initiated in 2016 to help the financially distressed city address its longtime deficit.

House Republicans passed their budget bill along party lines on Tuesday. Senators will begin debate on it shortly.

State Representative Patty Kim, who represents the Harrisburg area, said she plans to meet with Sen. John DiSanto in the hopes he can convince fellow state senators to make changes to the bill, and reinstate the $5 million reimbursement.

"Taking out important, basic, public safety services is not changing government," Kim said. "It makes no sense to me."

Multiple messages were left for DiSanto asking for comment to this story. He did not respond.