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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