State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro of Millcreek, D-3rd Dist., has a few thoughts on the state budget process.
Bizzarro’s office forwarded the following commentary to us recently. Here it is… and as always, feel free to share your thoughts.
It still has miles to go and less than a few weeks to get there, but Pennsylvania’s 2013-14 state budget process is kicking into high gear. And, from a new legislator’s perspective, I see this budget as more of the same false choices and wrong priorities that we’ve seen over the last two years.
We can do better. Pennsylvanians deserve better.
Since Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his spending plan four months ago, various stakeholders have raised important concerns. House Republicans were the latest to take a whack at it, putting out their version of a budget blueprint.
However, even House Republicans know their version is an improvised prototype about to undergo a major overhaul in the Senate shop.
House Republicans did propose adding $10 million to the $90 million increase in basic education funding proposed by the governor. However, the funding boost would do little to stop the major attack on public education, which has suffered from nearly $1 billion in cuts since the governor took office.
Roughly 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s public school districts have been forced to raise property taxes while cutting programs and tens of thousands of teachers and support staff as state support for education has decreased from 44 percent to 32 percent under the current administration.
House Democrats proposed restoring the governor’s cuts to basic education, accountability block grants, charter school reimbursements and other educational programs over the next three years. Unfortunately, the amendment failed along party lines.
Meanwhile, the budget keeps changing. At last look, it appeared that structural changes to the state’s public pension plans were off the table.
Still apparently in the mix are increased funding for transportation infrastructure and selling Pennsylvania’s liquor system. The Senate is pushing hard on transportation. The majority party in the House seemingly wants to link action on transportation funding with Senate acceptance of something close to what the House passed – reluctantly – on liquor privatization.
It could get messy.
However, what struck me most in the spending proposals from both the governor and House Republicans was the lack of attention to job creation and retention. One would think that Pennsylvania’s dismal job-creation efforts – 49th out of 50 states, according to one study – and too-high unemployment numbers would spark more interest.
At news conferences and functions in Harrisburg, I pressed the point that an opportunity exists to address job concerns. Based on the latest revenue projections for May, Pennsylvania can make a serious, substantial effort on jobs – in the $100 million to $125 million range – without any increases in broad-based taxes and even without exceeding the spending levels proposed by the governor in February.
I repeatedly stressed that northwestern Pennsylvania is bracing for the potential loss of roughly 1,000 jobs at the General Electric plant in Lawrence Park. If these jobs go, the rest of Pennsylvania will face a negative economic impact that will be too much to endure.
I applaud any efforts, including those by the Corbett administration,to attract new companies to the commonwealth. However, we need to ensure we’re fighting just as hard to retain the good, family-sustaining jobs that we currently have in Pennsylvania.
We must to do better and make Pennsylvania an employment powerhouse, where new jobs are created and the industries that have been the lifelines of our communities have the opportunity to grow and thrive.
We can do this, and we need to do this—and it starts with this state budget.