HARRISBURG, June 29, 2012 — Many Pennsylvanians will continue to suffer under the 2012-13 state budget, despite several positive changes to the spending plan since the governor’s budget address in February, according to state Sen. Anthony H. Williams.
The Senate passed the state budget today by a 32-17 vote and awaits the governor’s signature. Williams opposed the legislation.
“In any budget cycle, this one included, I work to find ways to help protect those most vulnerable – whether that’s students, seniors, veterans or the unemployed – so that we can level the playing field,” said Williams (D-Phila/Delaware), the Senate Democratic Whip. “We had some successes but make no mistake, in this budget, pain will be felt by poor people in particular, but working-class people as well.”
After initial proposed cuts to education, the approved budget calls for level funding for basic education, which includes restoring the Accountability Block Grant program, as well as level funding for higher education.
“We restored public education to a modest amount, and for higher education. Those of us committed to seeing more options for children in public school settings will see benefits in an EITC program and a new program,” Williams said. “So on the education front, there was a lot of activity to protect students and, consequently, many people working in that field, whether public, parochial or independent.”
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However, the budget eliminates the General Assistance Cash Grant program, which helps nearly 70,000 disabled adults, domestic violence survivors and children, and cuts $6.6 million to Child Care Services, which helps lower-wage families afford daycare. The Human Services Development Fund, which helps local communities afford much-needed services to vulnerable citizens, will see a $1.5 million cut.
“There were failures in offering justice for those who depend upon social service programs, be it job training or other assistance. The needs in Pennsylvania eclipsed the resources already, and in this budget, those neighbors probably will be even more negatively impacted,” Williams said. “Unlike in education, these are among the many things we couldn’t put back in place.”
Williams also said he was disappointed that the Gun Violence Task Force was cut for a second straight year — a $93,000 reduction this time around.
“We make it impossible for municipalities to have their own gun laws, but then we don’t ramp up the resources we need for tools that work such as this,” Williams said. “I’m still pushing that funding to be where it needs to be because I, like many others, am still concerned about random violence in the streets too often rooted in access to illegal guns. And in this budget, taking illegal guns off the street was not remediated in any way I feel comfortable with.”
Williams said the budget negotiations and the administration’s policies should be a wakeup call for all Pennsylvanians about the negative impact that the Republican leadership’s misplaced priorities are having on taxpaying citizens.
“The Republican leadership in its budget negotiation did what I expected. They offered kind indifference — ‘Yes, I hear what you’re saying. Wish I could help. By the way, here’s what we’re going to do’ — without really lending to the kind of compromise that would aid those in need.
“There’s a lot here that would lead many people to be frustrated. I get frustrated. But it’s interesting to note that people across the commonwealth — be it in rural, largely Republican areas or suburban, heavily independent ones — are starting to echo the same concerns and dissatisfaction I hear in my district,” Williams said. “They’re feeling the same way about this administration and the Republicans leading the chambers. And I don’t know if the governor’s listening.
“That doesn’t mean we should fall silent,” he said. “It means we should ratchet up our voices and let him know that he’d better listen. That if he doesn’t, there will be consequences, for him and his Republican buddies. He got elected in the first place because not enough of us turned out. With budgets like these, turnout in large numbers shouldn’t be an issue in the next election cycle.”