FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 25, 2021
Contact: Adrienne Standley
Statement by Marc Stier, Director, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center
The General Fund budget being presented today is a disgrace and a dereliction of duty.
The state is flush with more than $10 billion in our federal and state tax dollars which could be spent both to help those who have been left behind by the pandemic and to take a first step toward addressing the deep inequities that long preceded it. But the Republican leaders of the PA General Assembly plan to leave that money in the bank.
About $7.5 billion of the funds available will be reserved to provide one more temporary fix to budget deficits created not by the pandemic but by ten years of Republican-led fiscal mismanagement that includes deep cuts to corporate taxes which now cost the state $4 billion per year in new revenues.
At a time when a still-precarious recovery is just underway, it is fiscally and morally irresponsible to withhold funds that could help people who are in need now and create broadly shared prosperity in the future. We should put money in the rainy day fund or a bank account when the sun is shining. Today, however, too many Pennsylvanians are still living under the dark clouds of the pandemic and decades of neglect by the state.
The budget provides a small increase for K-12 education which does not make up for cost increases mandated by the state. So, property taxes will inevitably be increased in a majority of school districts. The only bright spot in the budget is the $100 million in “Level Up” funding for the 100 school districts that are most underfunded. But this is far less than the $1.3 billion proposed by the governor. So it is only a small step toward reducing the deep racial and economic inequity in how we fund our schools. It also fails to increase the state share of school funding, which is now sixth-worst in the nation.
The proposed budget provides only a quarter of the funds needed to stop a self-defeating consolidation of the PASSHE system while doing nothing to reduce the cost to students of attending the second-most expensive state colleges in the country relative to median income. After months of demanding to “open the state” and even going to the lengths of changing the PA Constitution just to keep businesses open under emergency conditions, there is nothing we have seen to help small businesses that are struggling to overcome the effects of the pandemic or to spur job creation in low-income and Black and brown communities struggling to overcome decades of neglect.
There is no hazard pay for frontline workers and no increase in the minimum wage. And to add insult to injury, there are reports that the proposed budget rolls back one of the Wolf administration’s most important achievements: providing overtime pay to far more salaried workers.
Republicans in Washington can agree to invest in infrastructure. But in Harrisburg, they embrace a status quo that is allowing our roads and bridges to crumble.
Some of the ARP funding will go to good use, including another big increase for people with intellectual disabilities. But the funds made available for K-12 education and for housing are from buckets of federal money specifically set aside only for this purpose. With the addition of ARP funds, we could do much more.
Republican leaders are claiming the budget is much larger than that of the current year. But this claim is based on the same fraudulent accounting they have used for years to hide persistently unbalanced budgets.
We strongly urge state legislators who care about the people of Pennsylvania to vote against a budget that fails to embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make transformative change in the state. If enacted, the budget will go down in the history of the Commonwealth as a colossal error in political and moral judgment.