The House Republican Budget proposal for 2017-2017 is deeply problematic in six respects.
First, the proposal does not close the state’s budget deficit, but leaves a gap of close to $800 million. Most of the revenue ideas presented by the House Republican Caucus to fill that gap are similar to the one-time revenues and fund transfers that have failed to fix our structural deficit in the past. The Republicans do not seem to be considering any proposal to increase recurring revenues by fixing our upside-down tax system.
Second, the House Republican budget widens, rather than closes, the state’s investment deficit, especially in education, environmental protection, human services, and community and economic development:
- Education: It proposes $50 million less for Pre-K education and Head Start than the Governor’s budget, as well as eliminates the $8.5 million safe school initiative.
- Environmental Protection: It proposes $9 million less than the Governor’s budget for the Department of Environmental Protection, which is already funded more than 30% below the level it was in 2008. It proposes to cut funding in half for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Delaware River Basin Commission, and Chesapeake Bay River Basic Commission compared to 2016-2017.
- Community and Economic Development: It proposes an additional $58 million reduction beyond the $11 million in cuts called for by the Governor. It does not provide any funding for the promising manufacturing and work-force training initiatives proposed by the Governor.
- Human Services: One of the few bright spots in the budget is that it keeps the new funding the Governor proposed to reduce waiting lists for intellectual disability and autism services. But in other respects, the human services budget is dismal. It proposes an additional $11 million reduction in County Assistance Offices beyond what is proposed in the Governor’s budget; $62 million less in Child Care Services and Assistance than the Governor proposes, as well as the elimination of the Governor’s request to add $9 million for evidence-based home visits; $9 million less in Mental Health and Behavioral Health beyond the reductions proposed in the Governor’s budget. It calls for reductions of $2.8 million in Homeless Assistance and $4 million for Local Health Departments compared to the current year’s budget. And it seeks over $200 million in reductions in Medical Assistance, which are likely to be impossible to attain given our current commitments to providing health care to people with low-incomes and long-term care for our seniors.
- In addition, the House Republican budget cuts $12 million for the Commission on Crime and Delinquency, funds that would be used to provide Naloxone to police departments so that they can revive people who have overdosed on opioids.
Third, the substantial reduction in Medical Assistance is not the only unexplained, and thus dubious, cut called for in the House Republican budget. It also proposes an unexplained reduction of $95 million, beyond that proposed by the Governor, for state correctional institutions.
Fourth, there are small reductions proposed in almost every government agency, cuts that do not, like the Governor’s proposal, seem to be based on a detailed analysis of how to make government more efficient and effective. Rather they appear to be made willy-nilly, on the unfounded assumption that the same level of government services can always be provided with less funding. Republicans are fond of comparing government to business. And while this is usually not a helpful analogy, in this case it holds true. No one would cut the budget of going business concern in this way.
Fifth, though the House Republicans cannot find funds for critical education and human service programs, they are willing to provide $75 million in new tax breaks for businesses that contribute to private schools through the EITC and OSTC programs. These programs provide funding to private schools with no accountability in a way that exacerbates, rather than reduces, education inequity, while at the same time inappropriately using public money for religious education.
And, sixth, the budget does not call for an increase in the minimum wage.
This is a budget that is unbalanced, not only in a fiscal sense, but in a moral sense. It refuses to raise new revenues from those who don’t pay their fair share of taxes now. And it fails to invest in the education, human service, environmental, and community development programs that are vital not only to working people and vulnerable populations, but to the future prosperity of us all.