July 1, 2011
Over the past several months, constituents like you have sent me thousands of letters and e-mails making specific budget requests on a wide range of issues. As an update, I want to let you know that the governor on Thursday approved Pennsylvania’s budget for the fiscal year that begins today.
I unfortunately must also report that in too many of the issues you wrote to me about, Pennsylvania’s final budget falls far short of what might have been.
This e-mail is to let you know what the budget contains, what I think it should have included but did not, and why I ultimately had to vote against it.
I voted “no” on the Pennsylvania budget because it fails some of the most deeply held priorities of the 19th Senatorial District – namely education, the environment, and health care. Such failure is particularly unfortunate because the budget could have addressed all three without asking any more from individual taxpayers. Specifically, Pennsylvania could have done what every other state has done: impose a Marcellus Shale impact fee and a tax on smokeless tobacco. Also, this budget did not make use of the past year’s half-billion-dollar surplus.
Instead and in contrast, all this budget will do is hike local property taxes.
A vote for this budget was a vote against open space, it was a vote for higher local property taxes and higher tuition at schools like West Chester University, Temple University and Penn State, and it was a vote against our friends and neighbors who work hard but in jobs that do not let them afford the most basic health care.
These are not the values of Chester County. We value the conservation of our natural resources, we value education, and we value the Quaker tradition that reaches back to the founding of our county and teaches us to extend a hand to those who are truly in need.
Below you will find budget specifics on education, the environment and health care. I hope you find them informative. As always, please feel free to call my office at 610-692-2112, or e-mail me at email@example.com if you have any questions on these issues or any other items in the budget.
State Senator - 19th District
The 2011-2012 budget makes drastic cuts to educational programs at all levels. The Basic Education Subsidy has been decreased by 7.3 percent, or $420 million. For the first time in two decades, school districts will receive less money from the state this year than they did last year. In total, school districts in Chester County will see $23.4 million less in state funding, with cuts ranging from 7 percent to 22 percent per district.
||Decrease in Funding
Owen J. Roberts
West Chester Area
In addition, the budget eliminated funding for the Education Assistance Program (tutoring), School Improvement Grants, Dual Enrollment Payments, the Science Its Elementary Program, Charter School Reimbursements and High School Reform.
There is no doubt that these cuts will be passed on to taxpayers in the form of higher school property tax bills. In addition, given that about two-thirds of district budgets are salaries and benefits, there will certainly be teacher layoffs throughout the region. Parents and students can expect larger class sizes, less individualized attention and fewer specialized programs.
Early childhood education programs also were targeted for cuts. The Accountability Block Grant, which provides funding for pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten and class size reduction, will be slashed by 38.5 percent. Funding for Pre-K Counts was cut by $2.46 million and Head State Supplemental Assistance was cut by $1.1 million. The one bright spot for early education was an increase of almost $16 million in funding for Early Intervention, which provides services and support for children with developmental delays.
We know that quality early learning programs help kids stay on the right path in school, in the workforce and in life. In fact, Chester County has one of the highest percentages of Keystone STAR 4 schools, a nationally recognized state program that ranks early and school-age education programs. Cuts to such important programs jeopardize the future of our children and our Commonwealth.
Higher education is also facing major cuts, though not as drastic as those originally proposed by the governor. Community Colleges will see a 10 percent cut in their operating funding. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which oversees 14 universities including West Chester University and Cheney University, will be cut by $90.6 million or 18 percent. Funding for the four state-related universities, Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln, will be cut by $128.8 million or 19 percent.
These cuts mean significantly increased tuition and fees, greater student borrowing and debt and more people on the unemployment rolls. Altogether they will set Pennsylvania back decades and undermine all of our efforts for long-term economic growth and prosperity.
Pennsylvania is the only natural-gas state that does not impose a severance tax or fee on natural-gas drillers. To my frustration, this budget will not change that.
Harrisburg’s failure to pass a severance tax means no new dedicated revenue for Pennsylvania’s Environmental Stewardship Fund or for environmental programs like Growing Greener, which are so important to preserving our natural resources. Due to the lack of any new revenue in this budget year, Growing Greener will have only $27 million to preserve open space and farmland, to clean up rivers and streams, and to improve parks and trails.
The failure to include a severance tax or impact fee in this budget is frustrating, but it will not deter me from continuing to work for one. The governor has said the time to consider the issue is after the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission issues its report on July 22. At that time I will again advocate for my Senate Bill 352, which could raise $200 million in its first year alone and $500 million-plus by 2015, with 22 percent of revenues going to the Environmental Stewardship Fund.
The Chester County commissioners and 29 Chester County municipalities recently passed resolutions calling for the renewal of the Environmental Stewardship Fund. Combine this with the thousands of letters and e-mails I received from people like you, and it is clear that Chester County strongly supports the conservation and protection of our natural resources. Legislation such as my Senate Bill 352 severance-tax bill offers such protection, and I will continue to fight for its passage.
Hospitals will be forced to pay for more costs as a result of this budget. While there is a modest restoration for uncompensated care – $16.5 million – it is not nearly what is needed and will be a real burden for hospitals. Funding for cancer screenings was cut by $447,000, and local health departments will receive $270,000 less than last year. In addition, funding was cut by 25 percent for burn centers, trauma centers and ob/neonatal centers.
The budget also fails to restore Pennsylvania’s adultBasic program, which the governor let expire on February 28. AdultBasic represents the only affordable health insurance program for low-income Pennsylvanians who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford health coverage. Almost 42,000 Pennsylvanians – including 3,000 right here in Chester and Montgomery counties – were left without health insurance when adultBasic expired. In addition, there were almost half a million Pennsylvanians on the waiting list. There is no reason why this program should not be restored and hardworking individuals should be abandoned, while the governor sits on half a billion dollars.