ABOVE PHOTO: Sen. Shirley Kitchen
Pennsylvania’s newest budget may be in the books, but state Sen. Shirley Kitchen last week said there are five areas that still need specific and special attention to help improve the quality of life in her third Senatorial District and for all Pennsylvanians.
“They call this our summer break, but there should be no rest for this legislature,” Kitchen (D-Philadelphia) said. “We need to find better ways to consistently and more fairly fund education, especially in the Philadelphia School District; pay for transportation upgrades and improvements and do more to help mass transit agencies help more people; modernize the state’s wine and spirits stores; expand Medicaid; and do more to improve the climate for economic development and the growth of small businesses.”
School District of Philadelphia
While providing $140 million to the district as the state’s budget deadline approached, Kitchen said the General Assembly still did not approve Philadelphia City Council’s request to increase per-drink and cigarette taxes.
The senator said that new revenue is not only something Philadelphians support, but something that will help the school district for years to come.
“But that’s not all we need to do on education in Pennsylvania,” Kitchen said. “We need to end the five-year funding freeze for special education, strengthen school-to-work programs and create a new charter development program while reforming the charter school funding formula.”
Kitchen said it’s critically important for lawmakers to be ready early in the fall to find a compromise on new transportation investments. As one of the 45 senators who voted yes on Senate Bill 1, Kitchen said Pennsylvania needs at least $2.5 billion to repair and add capacity to Pennsylvania’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.
“Bad roads, dangerous bridges and disappearing bus and train routes are combining to slow down Pennsylvania’s productivity and discourage economic development,” Kitchen said. “The new dollars will also help the Port of Philadelphia.
“This is not just about quality of life, which is a big enough issue all its own. Pennsylvania desperately needs new transportation revenue to attract new businesses and help existing businesses grow and become more productive. It’s about jobs,” she said.
Kitchen voted against legislation to privatize the state’s revenue-producing liquor stores but said the system still needs to be modernized.
“Modernization will give state stores more hours of operation and it will make the price of wine and spirits more competitive,” Kitchen said. “It will also preserve 5,000 jobs – jobs that would be lost for good if Pennsylvania ever sells the stores.”
Kitchen said it has been a national embarrassment for the governor to have failed on taking the safe, easy and right step of entering Pennsylvania into the federal Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act
Participating in the expansion not only would be fully funded for the next three years by Washington D.C., Kitchen said it would cover an additional 500,000 families, create 40,000 jobs and save PA hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Pennsylvania’s social safety net has many more holes in it since Tom Corbett became governor,” Kitchen said. “He’s spent his entire term balancing his budgets on the backs of working families and people who are fighting to just stay afloat. Expanding Medicaid would erase one thing that is on the minds of too many people these days: how to pay for health care.”
Kitchen said her interests in education, transportation, liquor modernization and Medicaid expansion – and making sure the pending historic changes benefit people, not corporations – all have one thing in common: their ability to generate tens-of-thousands of new jobs.
But to generate further economic development and to support the growth of small business throughout the commonwealth, the senator said Pennsylvania must do more to encourage entrepreneurship and company growth.
“Pennsylvania continues to lag way behind every one of our neighbors – in a big way – when it comes to job creation,” Kitchen said. “It’s good the state’s unemployment rate is finally below the nation’s jobless rate, but the underlying story remains ugly and discouraging.
“The commonwealth needs to do more to spur business investment and development, and there is a golden opportunity to get that done in the months ahead,” she said.