With its budget counter-proposal, state senators throughout the commonwealth have sent a strong message to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett about his controversial budget proposal: Not on our watch.
The GOP-led state senate earlier this month crafted Senate Bill 11466 — also known as the FY 2012–2013 General Appropriations Act — which restores many of the cuts proposed in Corbett’s plan, including budgetary slashes to the public schools, hospital/healthcare services and nursing home sectors, while also slashing upwards of $150 million from emergency temporary cash assistance programs.
The new budget year begins on July 1.
“Senate Bill 1466 will provide substantial restorations to certain areas of the governor’s proposed budget that reflects the fiscal realities that we have today,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Senator Jake Corman. “Increased revenues over the past few months allowed us to alter what the governor had initially proposed back in February, including significant restorations to higher education, basic education, early childhood funding and social service funding.”
This apparent about-face by the Republican-controlled body may be caused, in part, by blowback senators received from education-minded constituents back on their home turf. Corbett’s cuts wouldn’t only adversely affect the School District of Philadelphia, but also rural schools throughout the commonwealth that are experiencing fiscal turbulence as well. Their plan adds $517.2 million to Corbett’s proposed budget of $27.656 billion.
“This budget, which is sustainable and balanced, reflects less than a 2 percent increase over last year, and is still less than the budget passed in 2008,” Corman said. “The budget reaffirms our commitment to keeping spending in line with revenues, and continues to acknowledge that we cannot increase the burden on taxpayers.”
Corbett’s budget includes a handful of Block Grants, ranging from the Childcare and Development Fund Block Grant to the Student Achievement Block Grant. “The 2012–13 budget will begin to fundamentally transform the relationship between the state and local governments and the delivery of critical services in education and human services,” read a portion of Corbett’s budget proposal. “The budget will place several K–12 education funding streams into a block grant, providing greater flexibility for local school districts and positioning the commonwealth to incorporate a student-focused weighted funding formula based on environmental factors and student characteristics in the future.”
Corbett’s plan includes several appropriations in the Student Achievement Education Block Grant, including $5.35 billion for basic education funding, $542.3 million for pupil transportation, $77.7 million for non-public and charter school pupil transportation, $504.8 million directly to commonwealth school districts, $36.8 million to intermediate units, $13.5 million for career and technical centers and finally, $20.4 million to community colleges.
Many educators and elected officials assail Corbett’s plan, essentially calling the grants a smokescreen implemented by the governor to cover up the fact that his plan cuts education funding.
“The governor’s ‘block grant’ proposal would create a single line item in the FY 2012–2013 state budget by lumping together line items for employee Social Security payments, school busing, non-public school busing and classroom instruction. Social security payments are mandated, and busing is necessary to keep students safe and attending school regularly,” said Pennsylvania State Education Association President Mike Crossey, through a statement released by the PSEA. “The governor’s ‘block grant’ plan would erase decades of good policy and leave local taxpayers to cover the costs that this new system would ignore. We’re glad the senate rejected it, and we’re eager to work with House members to makes sure they reject it too.”
Veteran state Representative W. Curtis Thomas’ disdain for Corbett’s budget proposal has led him to craft an alternate budget as well. Thomas’ “Putting People First Now!” proposal calls for a reallocation of $1.7 billion in the general fund to the areas of education, jobs, healthcare and housing.
“It is my hope that this will mark the beginning of a discussion that will lead us to enact a state budget that truly puts the people of the commonwealth first,” said Thomas. “In these truly difficult economic times, many Pennsylvanians are struggling to provide the basic necessities for their families. However, Governor Corbett’s proposed 2012–2013 budget would do more harm than good for people who have already fallen on tough economic times … [I] am opposed to the governor’s plan to Block Grant basic education, student achievement, housing redevelopment assistance and human services development programs.
“Block Grants would allow the governor to pass the responsibility to local communities, which are already paying higher taxes and fees.”