State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, D-Phila. presented an alternative to Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2011/12 budget at a news conference last week at the School District of Philadelphia headquarters.
With a theme of “Putting Children, Families and Communities First,” Thomas’ proposal focused on five priorities education, public safety, healthcare, employment & training and community economic development. Flanked by a coalition of community leaders, Thomas said, “It reorganizes our budgetary priorities to soften the blow to basic education, higher education, public safety, and community development that Governor Corbett has proposed. More importantly, it does this without raising taxes.”
“I do not accept cutting $1.2 billion from basic education and $624 million from higher education,” he explained. I do not accept that cutting over $60 million in Department of Community Economic Development (DCED) programs targeted for local economic development is simply balancing the books. And I absolutely do not accept that in the face of these massive cuts. State Correctional Institutions are set to receive an additional $185 million – especially when their current level of state funding is already $74 million higher than it was when the recession began in December 2007.”
“My goal is to open up discussion about what the final budget will look like. No single budget plan will ever be adopted in its entirety. Adjustments and negotiations are a vital and necessary part of this process.”
Thomas’ proposal reallocates $1.02 billion of the governor’s $27.3 billion budget and reduces $3,5 million in selected general government operation line items for all state departments and the General Assembly.
Under education, Thomas redirects some Basic Education funds to the Pennsylvania Accountability Block Grant Program that is used to provide funding for afterschool programs, books, pre-k, kindergarten and special needs to Pennsylvania school districts. The governor’s budget provides no funds for this item while Thomas’ proposal restores $250 million to the program.
Basic Education provides direct funding to school districts and includes federal funding that must be requested by the state. Thomas said Pennsylvania did not request those funds last year and must do so this year before losing it. Thomas’ proposal restores $263 million in Higher Education funding — $100 million in general support to state colleges and $163 to state-related colleges.
“The average amount the state provides per student $10,500 each year while spending $32,000 for each person in prison,” Thomas explained. Something is seriously wrong with that priority.”
Thomas’ proposal also restores funding to the Weed & Seed, Safe Neighborhoods, Violence Reduction and Juvenile Crime programs while Corbett’s budget provides no funding for those programs. “These are programs that are proven to work and greatly needed by municipalities throughout the Commonwealth,” he said. “We’re not going to just allow them to be cut to nothing.”
The governor’s budget cuts $48 million of Tobacco Settlement funding that was slated for healthcare and transfers it to the General Fund. Thomas’ proposal restores that funding to the Adult Basic Health Insurance Program.
Thomas’ proposal restores funding to the Business Retention & Expansion, Housing & Redevelopment Assistance, Community Revitalization and the Economic Growth & Development Assistance programs within DCED while Corbett’s budget provides no funding for those programs.
“I don’t understand why the governor would do that in light of the state of the economy,” said Thomas, democratic chair of the House Urban Affairs Committee. “We need to attract andgrow businesses that can provide employment in Pennsylvania. How are you going to do that by cutting the programs that help do that? Also, people are losing their homes in record numbers. Why would you cut funding to programs that provide mortgage assistance? It makes no sense.”
“In the alternative I am presenting today, I am taking the first step in offering a different vision for our state budget. I am certain there will be many steps and many proposals still to come, and I welcome the opportunity for my plan to become part of the greater discussion.”