Blake: Alarming Budget Cuts Jeopardize Quality of Education and Health Care

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.
# # #

Blake: Health Services Can Ill Afford Corbett Budget Cuts

HARRISBURG, March 25, 2011 — At a recent Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing, state Sen. John P. Blake voiced his concerns over Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed cuts to health services and health care delivery.

In questioning Acting Health Secretary Dr. Evi Avila, Blake took aim at the proposed elimination of state funding for Scranton’s Commonwealth Medical College, the four regional cancer centers and a $3 million cut to three area hospitals.

“This budget proposal not only weakens our ability to provide quality education, but it also drastically reduces state support for NEPA’s top-notch hospitals and health organizations – all of which can ill afford funding reductions,” Blake said. “Eliminating funding for the two-year old Commonwealth Medical College undermines our long-term health care planning needs while risking the future of the college and its medical students.”

Gov. Corbett wants to eliminate the $3.8 million budget line item for the college. Blake said the funding elimination, which accounts for 20 percent of the school’s total operating income, would significantly harm the college’s fiscal position, compromising its ability to meet accreditation requirements and endangering millions of dollars of taxpayer investment.

Blake, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also criticized the Corbett budget for falling back into a more expensive, reactive role in public health rather than being proactive and preventive by funding programs such as the regional cancer institutes that have already proven to save lives and money with early diagnosis and treatment.

“In a time of economic recession, elected officials need to look for ways to help – not hurt – our constituents,” Blake added. “By taking funding from our hospitals, regional cancer institutes and the state’s newest medical school, we would effectively reduce the quality of care, relinquish our ability to detect cancer in its earliest stages and force our future doctors to look to other states for their education and work.”

# # #

‘Worst Economic Development Strategy’: Blake Cautions Against Higher Ed Cuts

HARRISBURG, March 22, 2011 – – At the first Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing, state Sen. John P. Blake criticized the proposed budget cuts to Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions.

“I look at this budget – particularly our budget for higher education — and I believe it is the worst economic development strategy upon which we can embark,” Blake said. “The cost of college tuition is already daunting for many who are seeking higher education. It is does not make sense at this time, or indeed at any time, to shift more of these costs to struggling families”.

In his budget, Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed a cut of $625 million, or 52 percent, for the 14 state-owned universities in the State System of Higher Education, as well as Pitt, Temple, Penn State and Lincoln. In addition, the Governor has proposed a 50 percent cut to Institutional Assistance Grants – funding that our independent colleges and universities use to enroll lower income students. Overall, Corbett proposed reducing funding for higher education by about 44 percent to $836 million.

“I understand that it is politically advantageous for Gov. Corbett to stick to his campaign promises, but when the campaigns are over and we’re elected, we have a responsibility to govern well. This budget does more harm than good as we try to grow out of this recession,” Blake added. “I look forward to additional budget hearings and I will work for a smarter and more fiscally responsible spending plan that focuses on long term benefits to our citizens and taxpayers – a budget that is not balanced on the backs of college students and their families.”

# # #

Blake: Alarmingly Deep Budget Cuts Cripple Essential State Programs

HARRISBURG, March 8, 2011 – – State Sen. John P. Blake today released the following statement in reaction to Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed $27.3 billion budget.

“While I commend Governor Corbett and his staff on the hours spent crafting this spending plan, I would be remiss if I did not express my deep concern about the massive and crippling budget cuts proposed to proven, successful state programs and services.

“In a recession, job creation and targeted investments are essential to our economy rebounding and this proposal jeopardizes any and all progress we have made in recent years.

“Across the board cuts may very well appear to save the state money in headlines, but cutting the budgets of programs that are producing incredibly positive returns on our investment can only hurt Pennsylvania’s long-term financial health.

“At all corners of the state, jobs remain scarce while the cost of living continues to skyrocket. Now is not the time for the General Assembly to turn our backs on the most vulnerable citizens and cut the programs upon which they rely to live in dignity.

“As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I look forward to debating and analyzing every line in the budget over the next few months to make sure we protect our investments and do what is best for the people and the small businesses that can put our economy back on track.”

# # #

Blake Applauds Corbett Reform Agenda, Stresses Need to Broaden Scope

HARRISBURG, January 28, 2011 – – State Sen. John P. Blake today discussed the need for state government reforms in addition to those recently outlined by Governor Tom Corbett.

“The reform agenda proposed by Governor Corbett is a good starting point for the reform conversation but to make our state government truly lean, accountable and responsible we need to go even further,” Blake said. “Reforming campaign reporting, eliminating gerrymandering from the legislative redistricting process and requiring receipts for legislative reimbursement are long-overdue reforms that our constituents expect and deserve.”

Blake said that while the Corbett plan touches on reforming the way legislative per diems are distributed, without requiring receipts the process is still not transparent. Blake acknowledged that there are administrative expenses that would be incurred in moving to this level of transparency, but they would be worth it in restoring the public trust.

Blake also discussed the importance of the legislature revisiting campaign finance reform. Other than limiting individual contributions and capping total contributions, Blake stressed the importance of improving the timeliness of campaign filing and reporting requirements.

“The people that elect us to represent their interests have the right to know where campaign dollars are coming from and when. The current reporting system is not satisfactory,” Blake added. “I commend Governor Corbett for his reform agenda and I look forward to dialogue with the administration and my colleagues in the Senate as we continue to advance important work for open government.”

# # #