Carbondale, January 30, 2014 – Senate Democrats gathered in seven communities across Pennsylvania today to challenge Gov. Tom Corbett to produce a spending plan that is aligned with the needs of Pennsylvanians.

Sen. John Blake, Carbondale Mayor Justin Taylor and representatives from area economic development organizations gathered in Carbondale City Hall to highlight the negative impact of previous Corbett budgets and describe why the upcoming budget is so important.

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“Pennsylvania’s state budget is an identification of priorities and a strategy for investment,” Sen. Blake said. “We can do better than what Gov. Corbett and his administration have provided.

Blake and Senate Democrats said their budget priorities reflect needs shared by all Pennsylvanians, including job creation, expansion of health care through Medicaid, increasing the minimum wage, repairing the social safety net and restoring education funds.

“Under Gov. Corbett’s leadership, Pennsylvania has fallen to the bottom in job creation and government efficiency, and we must do a better job of identifying policy priorities,” Blake said. “Senate Democrats have concrete plans to move the state forward and our payment method does not involve a broad-based tax increase.”

Senate Democrats said they will push for the following in this budget:

  • Creating jobs by funding targeted water and sewer rehabilitation projects, strengthening school-to-work programs and expanding community economic zones throughout the state;
  • Investing in education with a $300 million boost, bolstering funds for early education and committing to a long-term financing plan that restores funding;
  • Increasing the state’s minimum wage to at least $9 per hour, indexing the wage to inflation and raising the tipped minimum wage;
  • Expanding Medicaid and extending health care to 500,000 Pennsylvania families while generating budget savings of $400 million; and
  • Repairing holes in the social safety net by using $85 million in Medicaid budget savings for human services programming such as drug, alcohol and mental health.

Sen. Blake said he realizes the investments and initiatives identified cost money so the Senate Democratic Caucus has devised a savings-and-revenue plan of more than $1.1 billion to fund the priorities.

“There is no question that there is budget latitude and savings for investing in jobs, health care, human services and our workforce,” Blake said. “Lack of resources should not be an excuse that the administration uses for inaction on key funding initiatives because we’ve proven that savings and revenues are available.”

Senate Democrats said a new direction is needed because the state has gone in reverse since Republican Tom Corbett became governor. Pennsylvania has gone from eighth in job creation to 48th nationwide and has a jobs deficit of more than 180,000 when compared with national economic growth rates.

In addition, Democrats pointed to a recent study of the fiscal health of states placing Pennsylvania 42nd.

“Unfortunately, Carbondale is a good example of a bad result caused by Corbett administration policies,” Blake said. “Even as the state’s economy was beginning to list, the commonwealth was supporting local community and economic development initiatives that created good jobs and helped downtowns revitalize and increase business.

“There has been zero effort by this administration to properly address local community problems or help companies grow and prosper. Years of high unemployment are the result of this lack of direction,” the senator said.

Ken Okrepkie, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast Pennsylvania’s Pocono Northeast manager, said his organization has wisely used state investments to help businesses grow and become established entities in their communities.

“The companies that received an investment from Ben Franklin generated over 140,000 jobs in the commonwealth,” Okrepkie said. “And not only do we create jobs; for every dollar invested, $3.60 is returned to the commonwealth. That is an impressive return on investment for the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

Other speakers joining Sen. Blake this morning included Paul Browne, executive director of the Carbondale Technology Transfer Center; Chris Haran, senior vice president and CIO at TMG Health; and Eric Esoda, executive director, Northeastern Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center.

“We look forward to learning details of the governor’s policies and going through the budget in depth,” Sen. Blake said. “It is critical that we revise the spending plan to better reflect the shared priorities of the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

Senate Democrats said they will provide immediate reaction to the governor’s budget address following his scheduled speech to the General Assembly Feb. 4.