By State Rep. Josh Shapiro
The 2011-12 PA state budget is irresponsible and will result in job losses. It divests from the next generation and those who are most in need and shifts the tax burden and tough decisions onto local and county governments.
In the governor’s budget address, he spoke about the need to create jobs. Yet this budget actually slashes thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania. The governor’s own budget analysis says that 1,550 jobs will be lost throughout Pennsylvania, and this budget is consistent with that. School districts estimate that up to 7,500 jobs will be shed in communities throughout our Commonwealth. For those seeking a job, this budget cuts job training by $5.9 million—training that has helped 70,000 workers in the last five years.
I want to invest in job creation, not eliminate jobs for hardworking Pennsylvanians.
I also want to invest in the next generation—our children. This budget does just the opposite; it divests from them and fails to build on the bipartisan progress we have made over the last several years when we balanced budgets while still investing in our students. The K-12 education cuts will lead to increased class sizes, a reduction in elective courses, and the elimination of some full-day kindergarten programs. For higher education institutions like Montgomery County Community College and our State System of Higher Education schools, these cuts will mean 6 and 7.5 percent tuition increases, respectively, at a time when families can least afford it.
But the cuts don't stop in education. This budget hurts two local hospitals—Abington Memorial and Holy Redeemer—and scores of others throughout the Commonwealth. It actually raises a tax on the hospitals, while at the same time reducing their funding in key areas like OB and neonatal services and trauma centers.
In southeastern Pennsylvania, where the life sciences and health-care industry create jobs and provide life saving treatments for people, this budget cuts so many of those critical investments, like regional cancer institutes. It eviscerates services that help people with diabetes, ALS, lupus, epilepsy, hemophilia and AIDS. It also cuts preventative programs like newborn screenings, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and tuberculosis treatment. And for those who seek care from local health departments, they should be prepared for longer waits and less care options due to these cuts.
At a time when some in my district and throughout the Commonwealth are on the verge of losing their homes, the budget cuts one of their few lifelines by 81 percent. The Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, which has helped so many stay in their homes, will no longer be able to meet the needs of those in need.
The priorities in this budget do not reflect my values—it burdens Pennsylvania taxpayers while failing to make the drillers extracting natural gas from beneath the ground in Pennsylvania pay their fair share. These gas drilling companies make millions off the natural gas in Pennsylvania while they raze our land, damage our infrastructure, and compromise the environment and public health. In every other state with natural gas drilling—including Sarah Palin's Alaska and George W. Bush's Texas—the drillers pay a fee to the state to offset those costs. Here in Pennsylvania, under this budget, the taxpayers of Pennsylvania pay the costs of the damage created by the drillers.
The budget pushes the tough choices off to county and local governments and burdens taxpayers at that level. By cutting the Human Services Development Fund 36 percent and $45 million from the County Child Welfare appropriation, it places a massive burden on counties and undermines their ability to help children and families, senior services, autism care, homeless services, and drug and alcohol treatment. These cuts will place an unfair burden on local taxpayers and leave many Pennsylvanians without the care and support they so desperately need.
Pennsylvania entered this fiscal year facing a projected $4 billion deficit due to the national recession. Today, as we are about to end this fiscal year, we have a $750 million surplus. Cuts were no doubt needed, waste needs to be eliminated and reforms put in place. We have to live within our means and not burden Pennsylvanians with higher taxes. Given this surplus, though, there was plenty of room to invest in education and job creation.
Unfortunately, this budget did neither. Instead, it leaves those hundreds of millions of surplus dollars in Harrisburg in the General Fund to be controlled by politicians, not invested in people. Pennsylvania families don’t have surpluses right now, neither should state government. We should invest taxpayer money in meeting their needs or return it to them.
A favorite author of my children wrote: “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” That author is, of course, Dr. Seuss. Fashioning a state budget is no doubt a complicated question, but the answer in this economy is simple—create jobs, grow the economy, invest in the next generation. This budget does none of the above and as a result, I voted no.
The FY 2011-12 state budget was signed into law by Governor Corbett June 30. It was passed in the House by a vote of 109-92.