Public schools in Pennsylvania have lost over $2.5 billion in revenues since Tom Corbett became Governor. A billion of this was due to his budget cuts and another $1.5 billion has been lost to charter schools. Charter schools do not have any oversight, regulation or state controls. Several charter school owners are under investigation or indictment for fraud and embezzelment and charter school students do not have to take PSSA tests. Teachers don’t have to be certified and cyber charter schools which have drastically lower costs get the same amount of funding per student as brick and mortar public schools are suffocating our public education system.
Education advocates are fed up and have been conducting a sit-in at the Capitol since last week. Over the weekend they were on the steps out front while the building was closed. House Republicans have passed a smoke and mirrors budget which isn’t balanced because it relies on revenues which won’t exist. The Governor is holding public school students and teachers hostage to his demands that the budget gut teacher pensions.
Pensions have been a negotiated part of teacher compensation plans and school districts have contracted to pay these in lieu of higher wages. Remember that teachers are substantially underpaid for college graduates (and many have advanced degrees). These fixed rate pensions have offset some of that wage gap. The state has neglected to fund these pensions for years and now that the piper is come calling the Governor’s solution is to cheat these public service sector workers. Worse, his solution will only cause higher pension costs down the road. To fund two separate pension systems at once and having to eventually pay vast amounts to the old system as new teachers stop paying into it will be disastrous for future budgets.
The same for Corbett’s demand to privatize the state store system.. In return for a one time infusion of cash (which would be far lower than he projects) the state will then lose half a billion dollars every year thereafter. That is the profit these stores earn for us annually and which goes straight into the general fund. That lost half billion will only make future budgets harder to balance and force tax increases. This is especially tough for those of us who don’t drink. Why should I pay higher taxes rather than have those who do drink contribute profits voluntarily?
Neither idea has the votes to pass the legislature so the Governor is trying to force them through. His bad economic management has resulted in sharply reduced tax revenues already, for cing this $1.5 billion hole in this year’s budget. Interestingly that corresponds directly tot he $1.5 billion in corporate tax cuts he gave out supposedly to create jobs. This Republican myth that tax cuts create jobs is outright stupid. All date shows the opposite. In Corbett’s case his tax cuts for business have resulted in Pennsylvania sinking to 49th in the nation in job creation since he took office.
Let’s balance the budget the easy way: repeal those tax cuts, add an extraction tax on natural gas to fund education and let’s restore services for the disabled by taxing smokeless tobacco and e cigarettes and ending the 1% of sales tax business get to keep. In this day of electronic bookkeeping and electronic funds transfers businesses don’t have expenses related to remitting sales taxes. Closing the Delaware Loophole too would make the state flush.
These education advocates sitting in are getting attention but can they stop this ridiculous budget from going through? We’ll see but meanwhile think seriously about whom you’ll vote for this November. Governor Wolf also needs a good legislature with which to work for the next four years so we can right this ship before it sinks.