The State Budget: United We Stand, Underfunded We Fail

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 at 6:52 PM
The State Budget: United We Stand, Underfunded We Fail by The Spectator
Governor Tom Wolf is looking to return funding to schools and social services.

In Pennsylvania, the state budget is sort of like a big policy roadmap that decides what state government is going to do any given year about money, policy and priorities. It’s because the budget involves those key facets that there is political stalemate in our legislature today. It has now been six months and Pennsylvania still has no state budget.

You have to wonder if they’re still teaching the citizen’s social contract theory in Pennsylvania public schools. You know how those civic classes go. The teaching goes something like: “The people faithfully perform their duty by paying taxes, vote for an assembly and governor to govern them, join the National Guard or military so that people overseas can be told how to live like us and, most importantly, always obey the rules and believe the “official hype,” generated by the media. The governor and legislators are hardworking, altruistic “servants” for the aforementioned people in the storybook world.”

As you know by now, we did not have a state budget in place for the New Year. And who better to be at the root of this problem than the Republicans? Under former Governor Corbett’s leadership, they shamelessly cut education and social service funding while heartlessly refusing Medicaid expansion.

So, what are the priorities of the public servants of the GOP in 2016? For one, there is the privatization of liquor stores (so they can break the union and sell franchises to their cronies who will be able to hire people on the cheap). There is pension reform for teachers and real public servants (meaning the phasing out of guaranteed benefits and adding more 401(k) chips for Wall Street to gamble with), no new taxes and more tax relief for the overburdened corporations, and a sleeper bill — H.R. 1538.

H.R. 1538 would protect the identities of police officers who shoot people while the investigation is pending. The director of Philadelphia’s Police Advisory Commission writes:

“The bill allows the release of officers’ identity only if they have been criminally charged, creating an additional requirement that names be withheld if the release of the information can ‘reasonably be expected to create a risk of harm to the person or property of the law enforcement officer or an immediate family member of the law enforcement officer.’”

This bill would obviously undermine present and future attempts at police reform everywhere in the state. H.R. 1538 passed the state house in November and now awaits senate action.

The minority Democrats in the general assembly and Governor Tom Wolf want to return funding to the schools and to social services, but they want to do it through regressive taxation — they now feel too sorry for the Marcellus Shale frackers who can light their tap water on fire to tax them. These legislatures may, for the most part, truly want to serve the public, but they fail to remember our society is divided into the haves and the have-nots. You can seldom serve both of them simultaneously. The Republicans, both locally and nationally, have not understood that for a long time.

Maybe we’re the ones who need to learn the lesson; maybe we should stop supporting people who keep serving someone other than us. If we want 2016 to be a year of justice, then we’ve got to find ways to make it happen without counting on the Democrats to singlehandedly implement a fairytale ending.

The Republican-controlled legislature had what they hoped would be a “compromise” plan for Wolf to sign. The lawmakers would lay the plan on the front steps of the Governor’s Mansion, hours before they ran off to start their long holiday break. What a Christmas miracle it would have been, they had hoped, if the Democratic governor liked their revised $30.26 billion budget enough to sign it. They’d hoped the funding provisions for education and social services would entice the governor to OK the plan, as long as they kept tax increases to a minimum.

Wolf acknowledged receipt of the budget by calling it “garbage” and an “exercise in stupidity,” as he put the plan on the chopping block and blue-lined the proposal down to $23.39 billion. Republicans were outraged and lamented the governor’s stubbornness.

Clearly, the state GOP would benefit from taking middle school civics classes again in order to understand not only the concept of checks and balances, but also how the two-party system in the U.S. works. This isn’t about compromise (as we tend to view things); this is about coming to a mutual understanding about what’s best for the state.

In 2003, when the budget was not passed on time, school districts were forced to use up much of their remaining funds during a 176-day budget battle. When some school districts warned that they would not be able to reopen after the winter holiday, the legislature approved tax increases on income and cigarettes. In 2007, nonessential state workers were furloughed for one day and state parks and museums were closed during a 17-day budget standoff. In 2009, state employees endured “payless paydays” during a 101-day budget impasse. As a result, nearly 16,000 state employees took out loans through the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union to help them through a paycheck-free summer.

Wolf is holding corporations accountable by not accepting a budget that does not include a severance tax on gas drillers to fund education, which is why nothing seems accomplished. Meanwhile, social services such as WIC programs, medical assistance, unemployment compensation, and most importantly, our public schools, will all teeter on the edge of financial ruin if nothing is done.

If you would like to protest the GOP led ransom of our state funding, please consider contacting Cindy Stewart ( to attend a rally in Harrisburg to advocate increased funding for Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities on Feb. 8. United we stand, underfunded we fail.

Our viewpoint is voted on by the staff of The Spectator.

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