Wednesday’s tax vote – legislators’ golden opportunity to honor their words

Gov. Corbett’s first budget, passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, cut funding for education by nearly $860 million. Two-thirds of these cuts – $570 million – remain in place, an average of $330 per student. In school districts attended by a quarter of students in the state – districts with lower incomes and higher poverty than in the rest of the state – the cuts remaining in place are much higher, $832 per student.

Each year, surveys conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials document the impact of inadequate school funding. In 2013-14, for example, 47 percent of school districts expected to increase class sizes; 37 percent planned to reduce elective courses in subjects such as foreign languages, arts, music, physical education and, in some cases, math, science, English and social studies; and 23 percent planned to delay the purchase of textbooks.

The 2012-13 budget made deep cuts to seven county human service programs when the county human services block grant pilot program was implemented. These cuts impacted mental health services, services for those with intellectual disabilities, county child welfare, homeless assistance, and the Human Services Development Fund. These programs provide a bridge to a better life for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.

So it was heartening to hear strong Republican support for education funding and funding for services to the elderly, disabled, abused and addicted during the debate over the stopgap budget proposal.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed of Indiana County said, “Schools without textbooks and crisis centers with limited hours or closures are not ‘temporary inconveniences’ and are unacceptable.”

Speaker of the House Mike Turzai said, “That children sit in Pennsylvania schools today without new textbooks and victims of violence may not be able to get necessary support is unacceptable.” 

Rep. Thomas Quigley of Montgomery County said, “I refuse to sit on the sidelines and watch as so many people needlessly do without necessary resources and services.” 

Rep. Jack Rader of Monroe County said, “Human service programs are critical and valuable to those most in need, and ensuring they are adequately funded should be our priority.”

Rep. Doyle Heffley of Carbon County said, “At the end of the day, we need to be responsible and fund these vital services."  

On Wednesday, these legislators will have the opportunity to turn their words into action. They can vote to finally enact a severance tax on the gas drillers to fund our schools and to increase the personal income tax to provide funding for the human services they so clearly recognize are needed for healthy communities.

Or they can demonstrate that they did not mean what they said by voting down the revenue necessary to honor their words.

They cannot have it both ways.

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