Tell your legislators to balance the Budget by 9/11/17

In July, the General Assembly enacted an austere budget of about $32 billion. It increased spending very little over last year but used savings in many areas to direct more money to K-12 education, special education, pre-school education, the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education (PASSHE) as well as to intellectual disability services, opioid abuse and other mental health services, and child care.

But nearly two months later, the General Assembly has not enacted legislation to fully fund the
expenditures appropriated this year or the deficit of $1.5 billion from the the last fiscal year. Taken together, the state budget is short $2.48 billion.

Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, Majority Leader Dave Reed, and other extremists in the Republican caucus remain opposed to any tax increase. Instead, they are considering a bizarre plan to raid special state funds to balance the budget. Even if it could overcome deep constitutional, legal, and practical problems, it provides at best a one-year solution that leaves the budget in long-term structural deficit.

Contrary to what House Republicans and their ideological supporters keep saying, state spending has been shrinking not growing.

The General Fund will be in the red by September 15. Without action by the General Assembly, credit agencies are likely to lower ratings not just for state government but county and local governments and school district, costing the state hundreds of millions in additional interest cost. And, because so much of the state budget consists of expenditures mandated by federal law or contractual obligations, Governor Wolf will be forced to cut discretionary spending 12%.

The consequences of slashing the budget by that magnitude include:

1. Lack of funding for public education. Education funding will be reduced by roughly the same $1 billion cut by Governor Corbett in 2011. That cut led to a reduction of over 20,000 teachers, school librarians and guidance counselors in the state even after local property taxes were to mitigate some of the damage, as they will be this time as well.

2. Increases in state university tuition. Funding for Penn State, Pitt, and Temple will be eliminated and funding for the PASSHE schools will be reduced, leading to huge tuition increases at Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities.

3. Early childhood and special education programs will be sharply reduced. About 3,300 pre-school slots will be eliminated.

4. There will be deep cuts in human services for people with intellectual disabilities, opioid and other mental health issues, and those who need child care or help finding a job or securing funds for more education will be sharply cut. Funding for critical access hospitals and burn centers in rural will be drastically cut.

5. The Department of Environmental Protection will not be able to protect our air and water quality.

6. Thousands of state workers will lose their jobs, crippling local economies especially in rural areas.