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FireworksHappy Independence Day!

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Adopted 236 years ago, the Declaration of Independence and the words of our founding fathers still ring true today.

We have an extraordinarily proud history – and we sent a message to the world about life, liberty and freedom on July 4, 1776 – a day forever worthy of joyous celebration.

Whether you are celebrating at a family picnic or planning to enjoy awesome fireworks displays throughout the district, I wish you and your family a very happy and safe 4th of July holiday.

Budget Inflicts Hardship on People Across PA

Video: Sen. Blake reacts to budget passage

On Friday, the Senate passed the $27.65 billion 2012-13 state budget on a largely party-line 32-17 vote.

I voted no on the state budget because of unnecessary cuts to human services and child care services – cuts that inflict hardship on persons with disabilities and working class families – and due to the budgetary indifference to the fiscal challenges of our cities and public schools.

There were some things in this budget that were good – but not good enough. 

While significantly better than the one proposed by the governor in February, this budget does little to protect and respect our most vulnerable citizens. It cuts 10 percent – or $84 million -- from the Human Services Development Fund -- a key funding source for counties and local human service providers.  This cut adversely affects not only the quality of service counties and their partner non-profits can provide to our seniors and persons with disabilities but it will put educated, skilled, caring and compassionate human service workers out of work.

This is also a state budget that kicks nearly 70,000 people – including nearly 2,800 recipients in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe Counties – to the curb by eliminating temporary General Assistance payments to citizens in deep poverty.  This program has for years been an essential safety net for persons with disabilities or victims of domestic violence who have been in need of a temporary stipend from the Commonwealth in order to bridge the divide between a serious crisis and a life of daily dignity and security.  In this budget, the state’s General Assistance program was eliminated outright with little notice and with almost no effort by the state to prepare program beneficiaries -- or the service providers in the communities where they reside -- for the personal and social consequences of the complete and abrupt elimination of the program.

ClassroomFurther, while my Democratic colleagues and I fought to improve public education funding, we simply could not make up for the $1 billion in cuts from last year’s budget – the effects of which are still lingering throughout the state in the form of teacher layoffs and pay freezes; steep local property tax increases; elimination of academic programs and extra-curricular activities; larger class sizes; and deferred maintenance on aging school facilities. When we are flat funded in public and higher education we are losing ground and eroding the future economic competitiveness of this state.

Another facet of the state budget agreement was a state economic incentive for a new multi-billion dollar ethylene “cracker” facility in Beaver County to process “wet” gas from the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling region in Southwest PA.  This incentive will support the re-industrialization of an area of Pennsylvania devastated by the loss of the steel industry – a region that has had very meager economic growth prospects due to an inability to diversify or modernize its economy.  I supported this project – which passed the Senate by a 48-1 vote – because it will bring significant economic development and much-needed jobs to the Commonwealth; because it will have NO financial impact on the state budget until FY 2016-17; and because no state-supported financial incentives will be awarded for it until after $1 billion has been invested in PA and at least 2,500 construction jobs have been created.   Northeastern PA has been a beneficiary of significant taxpayer investment – investment has served to revitalize our own regional economy while generating new tax returns to the Commonwealth.  I did not object to the new manufacturing incentive because, like state investments here, the benefits will be shared by the entire state.

WorkerMy campaign platform argued on the necessity to keep the benefits of the natural gas industry – the energy and economic development benefits – inside Pennsylvania.  This project accomplishes that goal.  With this project Pennsylvania is competing with pipelines that could readily export our natural gas to the Louisiana Gulf region or to Ontario, Canada where several ethylene “cracker” plants and robust gas industry-associated infrastructure already exist.   In order to assure the investment, development and jobs occur here in Pennsylvania, a performance-based, state incentive with proper accountability controls and enforcement is appropriate to serve both the economic and the public interests of our Commonwealth.  Data relating to the project in Beaver County reveals that local and state tax revenues generated by the construction and operation of this new plant will far exceed the amount of state tax credits likely to be awarded to capture the business.  While this project is situated in Southwest PA there is little doubt the benefits of its construction in Pennsylvania will accrue to manufacturers in Northeast PA – including our cluster of plastics producers (Laminations, Poly-Hi, S & L, Proctor and Gamble, etc.).  Finally, but not at all insignificant, organized labor throughout Southwest PA has expressed strong support for the project.   For these reasons and others I supported the project and state incentives to ensure its successful implementation.

There is another point worthy of consideration regarding my decision to oppose the state budget as presented for a vote on June 29th in the PA State Senate.  Monthly state revenue estimates which are tracked very closely – not only by our Senate Democratic caucus – but also by the Senate Republican caucus as well as by the newly established Independent Fiscal Office, demonstrated a much stronger performance of our state’s economy than was evident when Governor Corbett presented his executive budget in February of this year.  In February the Governor projected a budget deficit for this fiscal year of over $715 million.  By the time I had to vote on the state budget for this fiscal year we learned that such deficit was virtually eliminated and that, indeed, we would be projecting forward a budget surplus – funds uncommitted and un-appropriated – of over $400 million for FY 2012-2013.   These are dollars ‘left on the table’ – left to the Governor’s future discretion -- while human service programs were cut significantly and while our cities and school districts suffer in fiscal distress now.  

The budget was not only flawed in what it did, but in what it failed to do.  We can and should do better by our taxpayers and by our communities throughout the state.  The final budget, though balanced in dollars, did too little to relieve an already difficult situation for many of our citizens, communities and public school districts and, as such, I could not support it.

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