Governor Tom Corbett and his fellow Republicans in control of the state legislature have succeeded in passing a $27 billion budget for the new fiscal year. And they did it on time for a change, which means they got it done before the new fiscal year actually began on July 1.
There’s been a lot of criticism of the budget. Generally I feel that elections matter, and that if the people of Pennsylvania elect Republicans, this is the kind of budget they are likely to get. But there are three things in particular in the budget that strike me as outrageous enough to write about.
First are those big cuts in funding for education, more than 10% for public schools and community colleges, and nearly 20% for the state-owned and state-affiliated universities. What makes these cuts outrageous is that Governor Corbett campaigned on a platform stating that, “All Pennsylvania children, regardless of zip code, race, education or socioeconomic status, deserve access to a first class education to help them achieve their full potential.” Candidate Corbett campaigned on “Enhancing Educational Opportunities” through various initiatives, most of which would require additional funding.
So if Pennsylvanians voted for candidate Corbett’s educational program, they didn’t get what they voted for.
Second, candidate Corbett, in one of his most popular campaign promises, vowed to privatize the state-owned liquor stores during his first year as governor. Republican proponents of privatization have estimated that sale of the state stores could generate $2 billion in proceeds for Pennsylvania.
There’s no sign of that promised sale or the resulting proceeds in the state budget. So if you voted for Corbett because he promised to sell the state stores, you didn’t get what you voted for.
Finally, what’s missing from the state budget is any kind of extraction tax on the natural gas drillers who are extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, and who are expecting $3.6 billion in gross sales of gas extracted from Pennsylvania this year alone. Thirty-three states levy an extraction tax. Most of the states that don’t simply don’t have any significant natural resource extraction industry.
Of the top 15 states in natural gas production, Pennsylvania is the only state, the only one, without an extraction tax. Texas has an extraction tax. Alaska has an extraction tax. So do Louisiana and Arkansas. Those are all states with Republican governors and state legislatures.
Even if the extraction tax had been enacted at the low 1.5% rate proposed by the Pennsylvania Senate Republican leadership, rising to 5% after three years, that still would have provided significant additional revenues to mitigate the cuts in education.
The natural gas drillers in Pennsylvania have to be laughing it up in their boardrooms. No extraction tax at all in PA! While education gets whacked!
That’s an outrage.