— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach
Since the state's fiscal year ends at midnight on June 30th of each year, May and June are always a busy time when everyone in Harrisburg is scrambling to put together next year's budget. We've had tough budgets for the past four years because during a recession, demand for government services goes up while revenues coming into the state coffers go down. Unlike the federal government, we are constitutionally required to balance our budget each year, so every dollar we spend must come from a revenue source.
There are really only two ways to eliminate a budget deficit: you can either cut expenditures or raise revenues. Actually, the smartest approach is to use a balanced approach that does both prudently. Unfortunately, for the past several years — due to the political realities of Harrisburg and the fact that Governor Corbett has pledged to Grover Norquist, a lobbyist who lives in Washington, DC, that he won't increase revenues in any way — the budget has been balanced exclusively through cuts.
It is important to remember that there are many areas of the state budget that can't be cut, either due to federal or state law or contractual obligations. In some cases, if we tried to cut money from a given program, we could be sued and required by a court to spend the money with interest. In other cases, our laws force additional spending. For example, Pennsylvania's criminal code creates about 2,000 new net prisoners per year (the second highest number in the nation). This requires us to build a new prison, which costs about $300 million to build and $50 million per year to operate, every single year.
All of the cuts we can make must come from a relatively small sliver of the budget that is discretionary. This includes money for first responders, education, libraries, human services, health care for our citizens, transportation improvements and our safety net for the very poor. We have continued to go back to these same areas of funding when making deeper and deeper cuts each year.
As a result, we have now reached the point at which we are in real danger of abandoning basic government services and the citizens who rely on them. You may have read about how some of our poorer schools literally would have had to close their doors if the federal courts had not intervened and ordered us to provide additional funds. Tens of thousands of people have lost their access to healthcare, childcare facilities have had to close, and libraries are either closing or drastically cutting back their hours and programs. Schools are eliminating art and music programs, guidance counselors and tutoring; and we are opening 30,000 new natural gas rigs across the state while drastically reducing the funding for environmental inspectors charged with making sure the drilling is done safely. In short, the picture is very bleak.
Following the jump below, I am going to try to give you a fuller picture of the cuts we are facing and provide you with the alternatives for which I am fighting. In my view, we could easily raise sufficient revenue to avoid most of the worst cuts without burdening a single Pennsylvania family. We could accomplish this by, among other things, enacting a reasonable tax on the Marcellus Shale extraction that is giving energy companies billions of dollars and closing the "Delaware Loophole," which allows 70% of Pennsylvania companies to avoid paying their fare share to help our state prosper.
These and other ideas will enable us to continue providing basic services to our citizens and will ensure that Pennsylvania is a state with the educational, economic and environmental quality of life that will attract businesses and families for decades to come. I hope you find this information helpful.
A list of programs funding to be restored and funding mechanisms follow the jump.