Harrisburg, February 4, 2014 – Senate Democratic leaders today called Gov. Tom Corbett’s 2014-15 budget proposal election-year pandering and woefully lacking on multiple levels.
“The governor really needs to stop promising and start delivering for Pennsylvania.” Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said today following the budget address. “Today’s budget presentation was election –year political pandering that doesn’t move Pennsylvania forward. It simply backfills and covers over problems that the governor created over the last three years.
“While it is a step forward that the governor has started to focus on priorities such as education with his $241 million block grant, it is still not good enough because schools are still struggling to deal with the governor’s previous $1 billion cut in education.”
The governor presented his $29.4 billion General Fund spending plan before a joint session of the General Assembly.
In the speech, the governor outlined his plan which is a 3.3 percent increase over the current year spending. The budget is balanced through the use of more than $1.1 billion in one-time funding options and shifts.
He called for a new education block grant that would be distributed by a funding formula based on student count, aid ratio, poverty and English proficiency.
Gov. Corbett’s plan also includes $429 million more for the Department of Public Welfare – although a lion’s share of this funding is due to a declining share of federal dollars for Medical Assistance — and an increase of $78 million for corrections. The governor also called for lowering the pension collars from 4.5 percent to 2.25 percent. This would reduce state pension payments by $170 million and school pension payments by $130 million.
Costa said that Corbett’s previous $1 billion in education cuts, failure to detail a job creation strategy, inability fix the holes created in the social safety net and his stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid are coming back to haunt him.
Senate Democrats said that the governor’s new found attention to key issues was insufficient given the lack of leadership over the last three years.
“Senate Democrats have offered a host of solutions including a new $300 million investment strategy for education, and the PA Works job-creation plan and we will support the governor if he expands Medicaid, hikes the minimum wage and puts real dollars into human services programs,” Costa said.
Costa said that it has taken the governor three years, repeated calls by Senate Democrats and a tough re-election fight to see that education needs more funding. He said that recognizing these problems and responsible solutions “shouldn’t have taken so long, been so difficult or include an unbalanced distribution formula.”
Senate Democratic Whip Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) said the governor’s new proposals were too little, too late.
Williams said the troubling jobs deficit of 180,000, the bottom-ten ranking in job creation, and the state’s poor fiscal health, illustrate the glaring gap in the governor’s understanding of the needs of the citizens.
“Every surrounding state that has increased minimum wage has increased their jobs. New York state alone grew 10,000 jobs – and they increased the minimum wage,” Williams said. “They did it not in the government sector, but in the private economy.”
Williams said that while other surrounding states are dealing with budget surpluses, Pennsylvania is still dealing with deficits.
“The governor can’t blame the previous administration for his continued budget troubles,” Williams said. “The fiscal problems faced by the taxpayers of Pennsylvania are the result of failed Corbett administration policies, period. Both sides have talked repeatedly about extending their hands on key issues, and I’m ready to finally see the handshake that moves Pennsylvania forward.”
Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) who serves as the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee chair, said today that Pennsylvania has a long road ahead to recover from the damage done by ill-conceived Corbett administration policies especially as they relate to schools, health care, safety-net investments and jobs.
“The governor still doesn’t get it. He has slashed business taxes by $1.2 billion, cut education dollars by $1 billion and simply refused to address key issues such as job creation, Medicaid expansion, human service funding and the minimum wage,” Hughes said. “The presentation today was an election year budget that demonstrates the governor’s inability to properly identify policy priorities.
“Pennsylvania would have been better served by this governor if he agreed to expand Medicaid to help a half-million Pennsylvanians, invest long-term in a balanced education funding plan, put more of an emphasis on programs that create jobs and help our most vulnerable,” Hughes said.
Hughes said that Senate Democrats have crafted solutions to budget issues and a savings plan of more than $1.1 billion that can be used to make key, long-term investments in schools, health care, human services and jobs. Democrats have also endorsed an increase in the minimum wage, Hughes said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold budget hearings over the next several weeks to examine the budget proposal in detail.