Faced with massive budget deficits, the loss of billions in temporary federal stimulus funding and the possibility of having to return $1 billion in MCare Fund money raided by previous legislatures, the Governor last year proposed a 2011-2012 budget that trimmed more than $1 billion in state spending from a state budget grown out of control.
However, the Governor's proposed budget focused on the wrong priorities and suggested reductions to education that were too deep. In fact, his proposed reductions went beyond even the temporary federal stimulus funding that the previous legislature had used to artificially increase education spending. In this effort, the Governor did not receive my support.
Instead, by working with other members of the legislature, we were able to reprioritize state spending so that today Pennsylvania commits more state tax dollars to basic education than ever before and schools in the 157th District received nearly $4 million in restored funding. The major change in education funding came from the loss of stimulus funding – a loss that the previous legislature and some school districts knew was coming but refused to plan for, instead spending as if that money would always be there.
Now as we begin the debate over the 2012-13 state budget, we face two painful realities. First, due to continued lagging revenues, the current budget faces at least a $500 million shortfall. Second, some will see education as ripe for cutting. I am not one of them.
While we do not yet know what he will propose, if the governor wants to save money on education, let’s begin by reforming the extraordinarily burdensome pension system to save tax dollars at every level of government.
Let’s cut the thicket of regulations and mandates that force schools to siphon money from successful educational programs.
Let's identify those programs that work – be they in education or other areas – and those that don't, then budget accordingly.
And, beyond education, let's ensure that social services are provided to those who truly need them while identifying and removing those who are cheating the system.
But let’s make sure education is still a priority when the budget is done.
It is my hope that, in the upcoming budget debate, politics can be set aside and we can work together to craft an honest, responsible budget that balances the need for protecting taxpayers with the responsibility the state has to its citizens. If that can happen, I know that our community and our state will be better off.