Earlier this week the Pennsylvania Republican House Leadership introduced legislation to serve as a “budget vehicle” – essentially a placeholder document without any hard numbers attached – to facilitate a fast-paced review and approval process for the Commonwealth’s 2014-15 state budget.
Yesterday we learned that this vehicle is an Edsel. It was developed largely in secret by self-regarded experts with little regard for the needs or desires of the public that it is supposed to serve. Like the original eponymous disaster from the Ford Motor Company, this Republican budget draft should be deemed a non-starter.
It’s also highly misleading. It relies heavily on a projected $380 million influx from the sale of state liquor stores – yet there is no pending legislation to facilitate such a sale. Furthermore, it would be an act of sheer faith (or lunacy) to believe that such a controversial ploy, which has been hotly debated and challenged for more than a decade, could be accomplished in a timeframe that would be meaningful to the state’s budget needs.
Another key misleading statement comes from those who repeatedly claim that Gov. Corbett is allocating a “record” amount on education. His supporters arrive at their number by including money for teacher pension payments required to make up for past underfunding by state government. (It’s kind of like allocating the cost of a kitchen renovation as part of the household food budget. Money is being spent, but not on food. And some children are starving.)
The fact is, the budget Gov. Corbett proposed in February would only restore about 46 percent of the cuts to basic education that he and his supporters enacted in 2011. The just-released Republican House proposal reduces Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget for education by $146.6 million. This is less than the 2008/09 FY budget (the year before federal stimulus funding).
Aside from underfunding public education, the proposed budget also cuts a planned expansion of community-based services for people with disabilities, and eliminates the Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities program,
Compounding the problem is the administration’s refusal to enact a severance tax on shale gas drilling – something that nearly every other gas producing state already has in place. (One Republican State Senator estimates that a 4% severance tax would raise roughly $400 million in the next fiscal year.)
The Corbett administration’s refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid may be even more short-sighted. According to a recent Families USA study, Medicaid expansion in the Commonwealth could help create 41,200 jobs by 2016 with an overall economic impact of $5.1 billion. In addition, Community Legal Services analysts say that Pennsylvania would save an estimated $1 billion between 2014 and 2019 as a result of shifting people from limited benefit packages, such as the SelectPlan for Women (paid for with state money) into an expanded Medicaid program.
The willingness of the Corbett administration and the House Republican caucus to sacrifice the lives and futures of Pennsylvania schoolchildren and the most at-risk in order to protect the interests of out-of-state millionaires and the most privileged is unconscionable.
The term “Commonwealth” is historic English phraseology used to describe a political community founded for the common good.
The priorities laid out in the current Republican state budget proposals, as well as the arguments underlying those priorities, are a dishonor to Pennsylvania’s citizens and the Commonwealth that William Penn long ago envisioned.