Blake: Alarming Budget Cuts Jeopardize Quality of Education and Health Care

HARRISBURG, June 28, 2011 – – Calling the Republican passed $27.15 billion state budget a short-sighted solution that creates bigger problems, state Sen. John P. Blake today criticized the drastic cuts to local school districts, hospitals and other key state investments.

The budget, passed by a 30-20 party-line vote, cuts more than $1.1 billion in state funding to public schools and 18 state-supported universities; including $51.5 million from Northeastern Pennsylvania school districts.

It is unfortunate for the residents of Pennsylvania that the deliberations for this state budget were not only ideologically driven, but they were focused on short term spending decisions and not on the long term impact of state investment, Blake said. The final budget document reveals a retreat from the commitments most Pennsylvanians hold as our states top priorities – – education, adequate health care, and job creation.

Education funding, an investment in the future of Pennsylvania and the future of our children, was cut by more than $1 billion and will cause a ripple effect of teacher and support staff layoffs and probable local real estate tax hikes, Blake continued. The only silver lining in this otherwise slash and burn budget is that we were able to restore at least some funding to The Commonwealth Medical College (TCMC) and our Regional Cancer Center.

Blake said that TCMC will receive a $2 million appropriation under the Department of Public Welfares medical assistance program for state-related academic medical centers — a 50% cut from last year. It is hoped that TCMC will be able draw down an additional $2 million in federal funds as a result of the state commitment made in this budget. The states four regional cancer centers will receive $450,000 under the final budget, representing a $542,000 cut.

The lack of funding available to TCMC had already caused a national accreditation body to place the states newest medical college on probation, Blake added. If the preliminary budget completely eliminating state funding to TCMC was passed, it would have put the future operations at TCMC in grave danger.

Blake also expressed dissatisfaction with the cuts to the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) and the Human Services Development Fund. HEMAP, which provides emergency mortgage assistance to struggling homeowners and helps keep them in their homes while they get back on sound financial footing, received only $2 million in this budget, an $8.4 million cut from last year. The Human Services Development Fund, which provides funding to county human service organizations, received $15 million, an $8.5 million cut.

The final budget ignored savings that could have prevented the depth of the cuts rendered by the Corbett Administration and Republican leadership in the House and Senate, Blake said. In addition, over $500 million in state revenue above estimate in this fiscal year is being held in reserve and the legislature again failed to enact a reasonable fee on the Marcellus shale industry — a fee they pay in every other state where they operate.

Blake said that many cost savings that Senate Democrats have discussed over the past few months were largely ignored in the final budget document. Specifically savings through alternative sentencing and treatment courts to reduce Corrections expenditures; procurement reform as recommended by the Auditor General; and the possibility of expanding managed care in counties where it has not been implemented and which could save the state millions of dollars.

It is clear that the Governor and the General Assembly had to be fiscally responsible when crafting a state budget to deal with a $4 billion deficit. As Pennsylvania continues to struggle to exit the recession, making deep and, in fact, unnecessary cuts to education, human services and proven state job creation and job retention programs is anything but responsible budgeting, Blake said. This budget was, unfortunately, negotiated in a very partisan manner and without the transparency that would have resulted in a more balanced and appropriate plan for our state.
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Blake Applauds Senate Vote Banning Dangerous Bath Salts

HARRISBURG, June 15, 2011 — State Sen. John P. Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today applauded a Senate concurrence vote on House amendments to Senate Bill 1006, banning the production, use, sale and possession of dangerous bath salts and synthetic marijuana in Pennsylvania.

“I commend my colleagues in both chambers of the legislature for their swift action to ban these substances, which have become an enormous threat to public safety,” Blake said. “This issue was of particular concern to my Senate district. The preventative actions taken by the mayor and by law enforcement officials in the City of Scranton in April evidenced an urgency for action by the General Assembly.”

Blake commended Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola for advancing a ban on these dangerous substances within Scranton city limits earlier this year.

Concentrated bath salts contain a chemical known as MDPV, which can mimic the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine.

Senate Bill 1006 also bans salvia divinorum, a psychoactive drug that can produce hallucinations, and it also prohibits the sale of synthetic marijuana.

The ban contained in Senate Bill 1006 now goes to Gov. Tom Corbett for enactment.

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Blake, Senate Dems Call for Essential Health Care Funding Restorations

Sen. Blake speaks at Capitol news conference

HARRISBURG, June 15, 2011 – – State Sen. John P. Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today led a host of Senate Democrats and medical professionals in a call to restore the potentially disastrous cuts proposed to Pennsylvania’s medical schools, bioscience investments and regional cancer centers.

“As elected officials, we hold many responsibilities to our constituents, none of which are more essential than protecting their health and well-being,” Blake said. “Regrettably, the budget proposals that have thus far been circulated make deep cuts that jeopardize the health of our citizens and erode the quality of health care that will be available to Pennsylvania families for years to come.”

Today’s news conference put the spotlight on state investment versus state spending. Senate Democrats argued that proven, successful investments and preventative cost-saving approaches, such as the Life Science Greenhouses (LSG) program and Pennsylvania’s life-saving Regional Cancer Centers, should be spared from the proverbial budget axe.

Blake said that through February 15 of this year, LSGs have been responsible for 3,175 new jobs, 2,763 jobs retained, 136 new companies supported and the creation of an estimated 20,006 indirect jobs through prudent early stage investment that has leveraged millions in private commitments to new and promising life science technologies and innovations.

“If we are serious about our competitive position in life science research and early stage investment and if we are serious about saving health care expenditures over the long term, we need to sustain essential state investments in the Life Science Greenhouses and our indispensable Regional Cancer Centers,” Blake added. “Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the country and our four Regional Cancer Centers have advanced an increased level of screening, improved stage of diagnosis and lives saved; effectively saving Pennsylvania millions of dollars in the future in unnecessary and unaffordable Medicaid costs.”

Blake was joined at the news conference by Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Democratic Appropriations Chair Vince Hughes (D-Philadelphia) and state Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia).

“From an economic standpoint, we have to realize that modest investments in our state-related academic medical centers are multiplied several times over when you take into account the private and federal dollars which flow into Pennsylvania as a result of the success of these institutions,” Costa said. “We can’t lose sight of the big picture and make reductions now that will cost us in years to come.”

Another concern of Senate Democrats is the potentially crippling funding reductions proposed to the state’s medical schools, specifically the two-year old Commonwealth Medical College (TCMC) in Scranton. State funding for TCMC was completely eliminated in both Gov. Corbett’s and the House Republicans’ budget proposals.

“With the average age of Pennsylvania’s practicing physicians reaching nearly 49 years old, we need to create incentives and opportunities to keep our best and brightest here in the state,” Blake said. “The cuts proposed to TCMC will not only put the operations of the college at risk, but will also have a adverse impact on the students, employees and the quality of patient care available in Northeastern Pennsylvania going forward.”

“On Monday the state Senate, by a party line vote, adopted Senate Resolution 100, which creates a temporary rule that forecloses upon our ability in the minority caucus of the Senate to suggest amendments to the budget that would authorize the use of excess revenue from this fiscal year to restore the cuts proposed by the Governor and by House Republicans to education, health care and human services for the next fiscal year,” Blake said. “Before a budget is returned to the House, we need bi-partisan support to make common-sense restorations to these programs and services that provide long-term benefits and long-term savings for all Pennsylvanians.”

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Blake Joins Democratic Colleagues to Echo Call to Restore Budget Funds

HARRISBURG, June 7, 2011 – – State Sen. John P. Blake today joined a host of Senate Democrats at a Capitol news conference to provide an update on caucus budget priorities and to call for key restorations before the final state budget is enacted.

“The cost savings proposals and the essential funding restorations that we talked about today are the same ones that Senate Democrats have discussed since the Appropriations Committee hearings in March,” Blake said. “It is imperative in the weeks ahead that we discuss responsible compromises that restore funding to education and other critical state programs that are proven, successful and necessary state investments.”

Blake said that the Senate Democrats believe that any enacted state budget should restore funding to basic education, higher education and our Medical Colleges; ensure Tobacco Settlement Funds are used to support health care initiatives in accordance with Act 77; maintain vital job retention, job creation and job training programs as we try to exit a deep recession; restore Medical Assistance in-patient grants and uncompensated care subsidies to our hospitals; keep critical safety net programs such as the Human Service Development Fund and the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program; sustain domestic violence and rape crisis assistance; and restore grants to the arts.

“Utilizing a portion of the excess revenue realized in this fiscal year, as well as implementing the cost savings proposals advanced by the Senate Democratic Caucus will enable funding restorations in this year’s budget so less pain is inflicted on Pennsylvania citizens and families and so cost shifting to those least able to afford it is avoided,” Blake added.

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that the legislature enact a balanced state budget before July 1 each year.

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Blake, Local Officials Talk Budget, State Issues at Legislative Breakfast

PECKVILLE, June 3, 2011 – – State Sen. John P. Blake today hosted local government officials from every municipality in the 22nd Senatorial District (Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe counties) to discuss state issues and the prospective local impacts of state budget proposals.

“The dialogue today with local municipal officials provided me perspective from different regions of my Senate district and it informed me on the concerns that are paramount to local officials as I move into the last few weeks of budget negotiations in Harrisburg,” Blake said. “The local officials in attendance understand well the effects of the recent recession and they know the challenges of balancing budgets under these circumstances. They expect a state budget compromise that reflects true shared sacrifice from all sectors of our economy and a final spending plan that protects our seniors and persons with disabilities while investing properly in education, health care and economic development.”

The legislative breakfast, held at Fiorelli’s in Peckville, was an opportunity for elected and appointed municipal officials from the 22nd District to interact with Senator Blake and to discuss issues of interest and concern to their communities.

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