Blake: Stopgap Budget Continues Past Cuts, Reduces Funding Levels for Schools

HARRISBURG, September 18, 2015 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding the Senate party-line passage of the Republican-crafted stopgap budget:

“The Republican-crafted stopgap budget presented for a vote today in the Senate is basically one-third of the flawed and irresponsible budget that the Republican majority passed in June which was properly and swiftly vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf. One third of that budget is not an improvement or a solution. Further, it locks in past cuts and ignores the significant stress being felt by our school districts, our human service providers and our taxpayers. The stopgap budget plan passed by Senate Republicans today all but ensures reduced funding levels for our schools and human service agencies going forward.”

“Since June, I have met with dozens of business managers, superintendents, and directors of our nonprofit and health care systems throughout the 22nd Senate district – all of whom are experiencing significant fiscal distress directly because Republican leadership will not agree to negotiate an honest, balanced and complete state budget. Those conversations, and the real pain being felt by our schools and our service providers made this a very difficult vote – but I know that for whatever short-term relief this plan promises, the long-term consequences of these bad decisions are far greater.”

“The Republican Party held control of both houses of the General Assembly as well as the governor’s office for the past four years. Over those four years, we saw a stark decline in state funding for public education and a dramatic increase of local school property taxes in 70 percent of school districts statewide. Democrats in Harrisburg were also forced to sit on the sidelines as the policies advanced by Republican control saw Pennsylvania drop to dead last in job creation and saw our credit ratings downgrade five times in four years – costing Pennsylvania taxpayers, annually, an additional $140 million in debt service payments as a result.”

“The Republican majority continues to hold Pennsylvanians hostage to a rigid and unwavering public policy position on two issues which are not intrinsic to a balanced state budget: pension reform and liquor privatization. While Governor Wolf has made significant concessions to the Republicans publicly and in closed-door negotiations, the Republicans remain unwilling to move at all from their position on pensions, liquor privatization and the Marcellus shale severance tax.”

“Governor Wolf was elected by a strong statewide majority on campaign issues that now constitute the major focus of his agenda in this budget debate: adequate public school funding; real property tax relief; a reasonable severance tax on the natural gas industry; and a return to fiscal and budgetary responsibility. Unfortunately, the Republican majority in Harrisburg continues to operate on autopilot while allowing our state to slip into mediocrity as the quality of life for many citizens and workers across the Commonwealth declines.”

“Pennsylvanians need and deserve courageous leadership and principled, well-informed, fiscally-responsible conduct from their elected leaders. Stalling or evading our responsibility to balance a full and complete state budget is not in the public interest. When we have divided government the only way to resolve differences is to negotiate – and this stopgap budget allows the Republican majority to evade the urgency of those negotiations.”

The $11 billion plan passed the Senate by a 30-19, party-line vote. The House is expected to begin debating the stopgap budget bill that passed the Senate next week.

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Blake: GOP Budget Ignores Priorities of PA Taxpayers

HARRISBURG, June 30, 2015 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding the party-line passage of the Republican-crafted 2015-16 state budget:

photo“The budget that was forced to Governor Wolf’s desk by members of the Senate and House Republican majorities is an affront to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf and legislative Democrats have been persistent in seeking a seat at the table – trying to work with our colleagues across the aisle to find a fair and proper middle ground that would be fiscally responsible while addressing our significant structural deficit. For the fifth consecutive year, Republican leaders in Harrisburg have locked us out of honest budget negotiations and, in so doing, have politicized the state budget process and have advanced dishonest numbers.”

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“This budget continues to position our state as the only one in the nation with a significant supply of natural gas that does not levy a reasonable severance tax to compensate our citizens for the volume of natural gas extracted. The GOP budget also completely ignored bipartisan plans in both houses of the General Assembly – as well as a plan by Governor Wolf – to provide significant school property tax relief to citizens across our state. The GOP budget has disregarded many sound proposals originating outside of their party and it ignored many of the priorities of Pennsylvanians who want their schools properly funded by the state; who want fair and responsible tax policy; and who want job growth in this state.”

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“Pennsylvanians get better government when they get balanced government – when the voices of the majority and the minority join to ensure the best future for our communities, our schools and our citizens. It is my sincere hope that once the dust settles and the Governor rightly vetoes this politically-motivated budget, we can get back to work on an authentic spending plan that reflects the priorities of all Pennsylvanians.”

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Senate Democrats Seek Job Creation, Education, Safety Net Dollars in Budget Discussions

Harrisburg, April 17, 2013 – Senate Democrats’ 2013-14 budget priorities are heavily weighted toward job creation, education investments, strengthening the social-services safety net, modernizing liquor sales and refocusing Pennsylvania’s business tax menu to help small businesses, they announced today at a Capitol news conference.

Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said that Senate Democrats will go into this year’s budget negotiations with a clear purpose and “are resolved that the state’s economy must be jump-started. New jobs must be created and we have to reverse the negative course that the Corbett administration has plotted for Pennsylvania on education and protecting our most vulnerable.”

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“We have an opportunity and a responsibility to seek new investments and use resources that are available to change policy direction during this year’s budget negotiations.”

Costa said Senate Democrats believe that more than 120,000 jobs can be created quickly by enacting a responsible transportation plan, expanding Medicaid and using economic development policies outlined in their PA Works plan.

Costa was joined by a host of Senate Democrats in making today’s announcement.

Sen. Vincent Hughes, who serves as the Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that by taking action now on key economic initiatives then restoring job creation and community programs to their past luster — before Corbett budgets sliced them to the core — is an excellent starting point.

“We need to start creating jobs right now and we can do that by working on transportation and Medicaid expansion,” Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) said. “These initiatives coupled with rebuilding water and sewer systems, investing in schools and new technologies will create economic growth immediately.

“In addition, by investing in programs such as Main Street, Elm Street and international business we can help small business here while they market their products abroad.,”

Democratic Whip Sen. Tony Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) said that the caucus was turning up the heat on the Corbett administration on jobs, health care, education and social safety net issues because the governor has failed to lead.

“We’ve outlined reasonable strategic policy alternatives that will reverse direction and provide a new path and we’ve identified revenues that will pay for the proposed expenditures,” Williams said. “Pennsylvania is rudderless on job creation and our economic numbers and business indicators under this administration illustrate the problem.

“Our most vulnerable can also not withstand another senseless round of Corbett cuts and we have to restore programs that promote help for those in need.”

Williams said that Pennsylvania is now 43rd in job creation, falling from eighth place among all states under Gov. Ed Rendell’s leadership. Plus, he said, last month’s unemployment claims fell nationally to below 350,000 but, because of Corbett policy short-sightedness, Pennsylvania led the country in new unemployment claims.

Senate Democrats said that they have laid out specific plans to achieve results in the 2013-14 budget in five areas. These include: strategic investments to create jobs; improving education; repositioning business taxes while closing business tax loopholes; modernizing the wine and spirits stores; and repairing and protecting social safety net programs.

The caucus leaders said that they’ve noted at least $750 million in annual savings, plus another $150 million in one-time revenues. They also said that we need to find resources to pay for specific new expenditures including $225 million for basic education, $50 million to aid distressed cities and communities, $40 million for transitional housing and homeownership among other items, and funds for new tax credits for a variety of areas including film production.

Democrats said that priority details include a three-year phase in of new monies to restore education dollars and key student-performance based initiatives that were cut by the Corbett administration in the last two budgets.

They also said that they would emphasize rebuilding struggling communities through their Growth, Progress and Sustainability (GPS) plan; seek new funds for transitional housing and new homeownership opportunities; and push for modernizing the wine and spirits stores rather than the opt for the risky privatization scheme that has been sought by the Corbett administration.

The Democrats indicated that they expected the negotiations to become more focused once the Senate returns to session in late April.

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

CLARKS SUMMIT, February 14, 2013 – – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today hosted nearly 100 elected and appointed local officials from around the 22nd Senatorial District at his 3rd annual legislative breakfast at the Ramada Inn in Clarks Summit.

“During my campaign for Senate, I made a pledge to be accessible to citizens of the 22nd District and to be responsive to the concerns and needs of our communities and local officials,” Blake said. “This annual legislative breakfast is a great opportunity to continue dialogue with local officials and ensure they have full understanding of the state budget process and the major public policy debates occurring in Harrisburg.”

At the event, Blake discussed details of Governor Corbett’s proposed executive budget and provided details, and his position, on several other issues likely to be addressed in 2013-14 legislative session including transportation funding and the Governor’s proposed state pension reforms and liquor control system privatization. The Senator outlined his legislative agenda and his commitment to fostering tax fairness while advancing economic growth and jobs in Northeastern PA and throughout the state.

Nathan Byerly, Deputy Director the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, gave a presentation on the state’s Open Records law. Blake, a proponent of transparency and open government, is currently the prime sponsor of a Senate bill that would amend the state’s Open Records law to include the four state-related universities.

The annual legislative breakfast is an opportunity for elected and appointed municipal officials and school district officials from Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe Counties to interact with the Senator and to discuss issues of interest and concern to their communities.

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Democratic Policy Committee Discusses Human Service Funding with Area Providers

SCRANTON, May 16, 2012 – – Members of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today met area human service providers at Lackawanna College to discuss current public policy issues and the adverse effect a proposed 20 percent state funding reduction would have on the people they serve.

Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chair Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) said the committee has been gathering input from providers and advocates throughout the state on the impact the Governor’s proposed budget will have upon their ability to continue to provide adequate services in their communities.

“This is a great opportunity for committee members and service providers alike to share ideas and continue the discussion about what their policy and funding needs are,” Boscola said. “It is imperative that the legislature continues to fight for programs and services that are proven successful, especially for the people who need our help the most.”

Last week, the Senate passed an updated version of the state’s 2012-13 spending plan that would increase state funding to human service providers by $84 million over Gov. Corbett’s initial budget proposal.

State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) spoke about how the continued budget cuts not only affect local social service organizations, but also the levels of service they can provide to individuals and their families who rely so heavily on quality services from providers in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

“It was very important for my Senate colleagues to visit my district and hear entreaties from our local human service providers about the challenges they are facing on the front lines with limited resources and increased demand,” Blake said. “As we work towards a final state budget, we must be diligent in our negotiations so that those who need our help the most, including seniors, persons with intellectual disabilities and autism, and those struggling with their health or mental illness, are able to receive the care and support they deserve.”

Also participating in the discussion, state Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon/Monroe) said that the legislature “must be mindful of the human impact and the negative consequences of reducing funding to programs that are an essential lifeline to families and individuals across the Commonwealth.”

Participants told the Senators about their current struggles to keep pace with the increasing demand for their services and the significant risk of reducing state support any further.

“The proposed budget cuts, even at the 10 percent level, would put many programs and services that we and others provide in serious jeopardy and if these programs go—they’re gone,” William P. Conaboy, President, Allied Services Health Integration System said. “A lot of these programs will be in jeopardy and these are programs that we need more than ever.”

Gary Drapek, President, United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties echoed those concerns.

“There has been no other time where we need the state’s help more than we do now – — and it feels like the rug is being pulled out from under us,” Drapek said. “This is about more than lines and numbers on a spread sheet, there are real lives and real people being affected.”

Other participants in the roundtable discussion included representatives from the Women’s Resource Center, The ARC of Northeastern PA, United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, Allied Services Health Integration System, United Cerebral Palsy of Northeastern PA, Northeast PA Center for Independent Living, and the Lackawanna-Susquehanna Behavioral Health, Intellectual Disabilities, Early Intervention Program.

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