Specifics on Pennsylvania $161 Million Budget Cuts Announced

In December, Governor Rendell vowed to cut an additional $170 million from Pennsylvania’s state budget in order to make up for lower-than-anticipated tax revenues. It looks like the specifics of those cuts have now been finalized. Here is a press release with the specific cuts but I am confused. I thought that the recent approval of the tables games was to help the budget situation? And here I thought that the state was going to help us with the teacher’s pension contribution increase?  How is that going to be possible?

   Pennsylvania Budget Cuts Another $161 Million

Pennsylvania’s budget took another hit, as the state released details of a $161 million round of cuts, which Gov. Ed Rendell ordered last month. Each department was instructed to cut another one percent from its current budget and while some trimmed each program equally, other departments eliminated programs to make the cut.

The Department of Community and Economic Development shed almost $11 million, cutting in whole the $200,000 previously allotted for the Super Computer Center, $1.23 million for infrastructure technical assistance and $1 million for minority business development. Funding for agile manufacturing, powdered metals and digital & robotic technology, together less than $1 million, was also cut.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources lost $1 million even as its forest land fetched bids above $5,000 per acre today from natural gas drillers looking to tap into the Marcellus Shale. Cuts to the Department of Environmental Protection totaled $3.8 million and were an even one percent across all programs.

Education funding fell by $27.8 million, eliminating the $1.9 million mobile science education program, $400,000 of higher education assistance, and $2 million for community education councils.

In health services, a $2.6 million biotechnology research program was stripped of its funding. Children’s Hospital lost its $200,000 share from the Department of Emergency Management while the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh had its $431,000 health appropriation cut to $215,000. Health care clinics that were due to receive $3 million from the Department of Public Welfare were cut from the budget, as were acute care hospitals, slated for $4.7 million in funding.

Several programs under the executive branch were eliminated, including safe neighborhoods, violence reduction, and $1.25 million for agricultural research, promotion, education and exports. Food marketing and research and the farm school nutrition initiatives were also axed.

Another $1 million was cut from the governor’s grants to the arts. Museums took another hit during this round.  Museums took another hit during this round. General museum assistance grants were slashed by a third and specific funding for the Carnegie Museum of National History and the Carnegie Science Center was cut in half from $113,000 each to $57,000.

 The Department of Labor and Industry cut is New Choices/New Options program, a $1.5 million initiative to retrain and place individuals looking for new careers.

Governor Candidates Meet with Teachers Union . . . Show Support for Education Funding & Teacher Pensions

In light of all the discussion yesterday with the TESD budget, I thought it would be appropriate to offer an update on Pennsylvania’s governor hopefuls and their meeting over the weekend. In Harrisburg, 6 governor candidates met with the state’s major teachers union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).  These governor candidates all support more state funds for public education and support the state’s commitment for teacher pensions, however only two offered specific ways to raise the billions of dollars that will be needed.

Joe Hoeffel (D) from Montgomery County thinks that the state should move to a graduated income tax, where wealthier people pay at a higher rate, while the middle and lower income residents pay at a lesser rate.  The state currently uses a flat, 3.07% income tax rate for all taxpayers. Hoeffel said that 34 states now have a graduated income tax, which focuses a steep tax rate on the top 1% of the taxpayers.  Hoeffel believes that this is fairer than the current flat income tax.  As a Tredyffrin Easttown School District taxpayer, what do you think of Hoeffel’s proposal of a graduated income tax?

Tom Knox (D) Philadelphia businessman offered a severance tax on natural gas; taxing cigar and smokeless tobacco sales; and ending the loophole which allows companies to shield income by setting up offices in Delaware.  I think some of these ideas have been bantered about by Governor Rendell.  I don’t know about the other ideas but I sure think we should be taxing cigar and smokeless tobacco sales — why not?  We tax cigarettes, why not cigars? I’m not sure why it’s not already being done.

Candidates Dan Onorato (D) from Allegheny County; Jack Wagner (D) state auditor general; and Chris Doherty (D) mayor of Scranton also attended the teacher’s union meeting along with Republican candidate Tom Corbett, state attorney general.

All 6 candidates agreed that school districts around the state need more options for raising money locally than just property tax (however, no one offered an specifics).  Hoeffel did offer that nationally, states provide 47% of school funding vs. Pennsylvania only receiving 37% from the state.  All candidates agreed that (1) state funding needed to increase beyond 37%; (2) increase funding for early childhood education programs; and (3) help find the $5 billion that starting in mid-2012 will be needed to fund teacher pensions. They all praised the teachers for the recent gains in student scores on standardized tests, saying Pennsylvania was the only state with uniform improvements regardless of grade level.

With all the TESD budget discussion on this site from residents, teachers and school board members, it is beginning to seem that the teacher union is coloring the picture to its members slightly different than reality.  Or am I just reading the situation wrong?  What is your opinion of the teacher unions . . . are they helping the case for the teachers or are they a contributing factor to the current budget crisis (and unrest) in the community?  Anyone wish to weight in on the teacher unions?