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State Budget Makes Deep, Unnecessary Cuts

On June 28, I voted against a state budget that contains deep and unnecessary cuts that will have long-lasting implications on the lives of Pennsylvanians.

It is unfortunate for the residents of Pennsylvania and of the 22nd District that the deliberations for this state budget were so ideologically driven. They were also focused on short term spending decisions and not on the long term impact of state investment. It is regrettable that the negotiations that led to the final budget proposal were closed to Senate Democrats. Only the Corbett Administration and the Senate and House Republican leadership participated in and directed the budget process from start to finish. The voices of the 5 million Pennsylvanians represented by Senate Democrats were not heard throughout this process.

The final budget document reveals a retreat from the commitments most Pennsylvanians hold as our state's top priorities at this time -- education, adequate health care and jobs. Education funding, an investment in the future of Pennsylvania and the future of our children, was cut by more than $1 billion. Hospitals face deep cuts in state aid for uncompensated care, trauma centers and obstetric and neonatal services. Programs for persons with disabilities were cut by nearly $70 million in state and federal aid and key community and economic development programs that were touted through the Senate Democrats’ PA Works program were ignored.

I am also upset 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 which helps keep them in their homes while they get back to 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 essential funding to counties and their allied human service organizations, received only $15 million statewide, an $8.5 million cut.

A 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 and our Regional Cancer Center.

All Children Left BehindThe final budget ignored opportunities for savings that could have prevented the depth of the cuts rendered by the Corbett Administration and the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate. In addition, over $500 million in state revenues above estimate in the current fiscal year is being held in reserve by the Corbett Administration. These funds could have been used to insulate our people from the continuing hardship of recession. And let’s be clear, this $500 million has NOT been placed in the State’s Rainy Day Fund. It has simply been carried forward for use at the discretion of the Corbett Administration.

Finally, the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas industry will continue to operate without providing the citizens of this Commonwealth or our local governments with fair compensation for the privilege of doing business in this state.

It is also important for citizens to understand that the state budget is not enacted through a single appropriation bill. The budget also involves a series of code bills – the School Code, the Welfare Code and the Fiscal Code -- that provide the fiscal and statutory framework as to how the budget – and the deep cuts contained in it -- are actually implemented.

While the School Code bill contained a number of good public policies such as new provisions for alternative certification of teachers in rural school districts; establishing a more seamless and, for middle class families, a much less expensive opportunity for concurrent enrollment so students can obtain college credit for courses taken in high school, I could not support a bill that cut tens of millions of dollars from school districts in my Senate district.

The depth of the cuts in annual total funding to school districts in the 22nd District is alarming. They range from 9% to over 17% from last years’ numbers. Two school districts with the highest concentration of poverty, Scranton and Carbondale, will be subjected to cuts of nearly $5.8 million, down 13.3% and $1.6 million, down 16.3%, respectively. Another school district -- the Pocono Mountain School District – which is the largest school district in Monroe County – will see a funding reduction of 17.3% or nearly $4.2 million. These cuts force local school districts to eliminate important programs; furlough teachers and support staff; and they could result in increases in local property taxes in order to balance local budgets so schools can continue to provide a quality education to our children.

Further, much has been said over the past several months about the need to curb waste, fraud and abuse in programs administered by the Department of Public Welfare (DPW). I agree. I also know, however, that the estimates of savings upon which the Corbett Administration is depending in trying to root out such waste, fraud and abuse are questionable at best. From what I understand of the alleged waste, fraud and abuse it doesn’t occur at the beneficiary level – it is not our seniors or persons with disabilities – the people who rely upon our safety net programs in order to live in dignity -- who are ‘beating the system’. No, the real focus must be on those that can exploit inefficiencies or weak accountability controls on the supply side of our program delivery systems. In any case, I am very suspect that the Corbett Administration’s estimates of savings in DPW programs by reducing waste, fraud and abuse can be realized within this fiscal year.

Of deep concern to me in the Welfare Code are the overly generous and unchecked executive powers that are granted to the Corbett Administration to cut cash assistance grant amounts – amounts that have not been increased in over 20 years; to eliminate entire categories of eligibility for care under Medicaid; or to increase co-payments for child care subsidies to levels unaffordable to our young families without public input or the typical, formal regulatory review process.

I could not support this budget nor the accompanying Welfare and School Code bills not only because of what they do to Pennsylvanians, but really because of what they fail to do. More people will be out of work, hospitals will again feel the pinch as they try to provide quality care with less support from Harrisburg; tuition will rise for kids entering our colleges and universities; and the important programs that support job growth, help revitalize our communities and help our friends and neighbors in difficult times -- will be inadequate to the meet the challenges we face as we try to accelerate an exit from a deep economic recession.

This state budget will certainly have adverse impact across the state but that will not stop me from working hard to ensure your voices and concerns are heard. It is my hope that next year I will be afforded the opportunity to participate in an open, transparent and bipartisan budget process that will respect your concerns and interests. I look forward to working with my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, when we return in the Fall so that together we can find a better way forward for Pennsylvania and, as always, I look forward to continuing my work for the people of the 22nd Senatorial District.

Happy 235th Birthday America

Senator Blake

Click above to watch a 4th of July message from Senator Blake

It is time to celebrate our country’s history, our independence and our freedom. It’s the Fourth of July! Independence Day celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 when our founding fathers officially declared our independence from the British Crown.

I personally look forward to the holiday because of the backyard barbeques with family and friends and of course the beautiful fireworks displays and parades that will take place across the 22nd district.

Here are some of the best places to see fireworks around the area this weekend:

Saturday, July 2

  • Nay Aug Park, Scranton – Live music starting at 7:30 p.m., fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
  • Mount Airy Casino Resort, Mount Pocono – Fireworks display with music at 9:30 p.m.
  • Abington Heights Middle School, Clarks Summit – Fireworks begin at dusk
  • Carbondale City Hall, Carbondale – Fireworks begin at dusk
  • North Pocono High School Stadium, Moscow – Fireworks start at 9:30 p.m.

Sunday, July 3

  • Peckville Assembly of God, Blakely – Fireworks begin at dusk
  • Central Park, Honesdale – Celebration begins at 5:30 p.m., fireworks begin at dusk
  • Lake Ariel Beach, Lake Ariel – Fireworks begin at dusk.
  • Lackawanna County Courthouse Square, Scranton – Music by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic begins at 7:30 p.m., fireworks follow the concert

Monday, July 4

  • Kirby Park, Wilkes-Barre – Music by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic from 7:45 p.m. until midnight, fireworks at dusk

Tuesday, July 5

  • Jessup Veterans Memorial Stadium, Jessup – Family Day Celebration begins at 6:30 p.m., fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
  • PNC Field, Moosic – Fireworks begin at the end of the Scranton Yankees baseball game

Watch Video 4th of July Message Floor Remarks