Flush with $10 billion in $7.3 billion in federal funds and a $3-billion, current-year surplus—all of which comes from our taxes—the Republican majority enacted a budget that neither provides much relief from the pandemic nor includes public investments to reduce our state’s glaring economic and racial inequity.
And while ignoring those problems, the Republican majority passed legislation to make voting more difficult.
The inaction on the budget and the actions taken to make it harder for people to vote are connected.
An overwhelming majority of the public, including a substantial number of Republicans, want American Rescue Plan funds to be invested in the people of Pennsylvania.
There are many opportunities for such investment:
One-tenth of the funds available this year could have been used to fund Governor Wolf’s bold $1.3-billion proposal to take a major step toward reducing our worst-in-the-nation inequality in K-12 school funding. (The $300 million in new education funding does not keep pace with either inflation or the growing cost of charter schools and pensions. The $100 million for a new Level Up program reduces inequity but is about 2% of what we need to ensure that every child in Pennsylvania gets an adequate education as defined by state standards)
Another one-tenth could have been used to do what New Jersey did and provide tax rebate grants to low- and middle-income families who, under PA’s upside-down tax system, pay state and local taxes at twice the rate of the top 1%.
One-twentieth could have provided $500 million to small business owners whose revenues statewide remain almost 30% below that of January 2020. After wrongly blaming Governor Wolf, not the pandemic, for the struggles of small businesses, the Republican majority did nothing to help them.
Another one-twentieth could have been used to provide $500 million in hazard pay for essential workers who risked their lives during the pandemic.
One-twenty-fifth could have been used to provide $200 million to stop the self-defeating consolidation of the state college system or to provide $200 million in scholarships to reverse the decline in the number of students attending one of the most expensive state college systems in the country.
A similar amount could have been used to invest in our public health system, which is among the five lowest-funded in the country or make broadband more accessible for low-income urban communities and almost every rural community.
Carrying out those initiatives would still leave half of the $7.5 billion available to continue these programs for another year.
Beyond that time, when federal funds run out, new spending would require tax increases on the rich and multi-national corporations that pay no taxes to our state, which polls show is a very popular idea among the people of Pennsylvania. But the Republican majority is fearful that any successful and popular public investment might lead more Pennsylvanians to recognize that government can improve their lives and then demand that the state do more.
So, they have decided to ignore what the majority of Pennsylvanians want. And to make it easier to ignore their constituents, they propose unpopular election law changes making it harder for all voters to cast their ballot—which means that low-income and Black and brown voters would be especially disadvantaged.
The anti-democracy bill would move the deadline to apply for ballots earlier. It would roll back easy ways to vote by limiting the number and availability of ballot drop boxes and satellite election offices. It would add new voter ID rules even though everyone already has to show identification to register to vote. It would dissuade people from using mail-in ballots and make elections more insecure by requiring people to put copies of their IDs in the mail, creating a severe risk of identity theft.
This attack on democracy is driven by a lie, endlessly repeated by the members of the Republican Party—that the 2020 election was compromised or fraudulent.
This week, the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has shown us that it is a party that does not care about education, public health, or ensuring that everyone has access to health care or childcare.
The Party has put our tax money in its vault instead of addressing economic and racial injustice.
It is willing to undermine our democracy, so it doesn’t have to listen to those who do care about these things.
It appears to care only about holding on to power and ensuring that the richest Pennsylvanians and multi-national corporations never have to pay their fair share of taxes.