The new 2013-2014 state budget was signed into law by Republican Governor Tom Corbett on June 30. I’ve said before that budget choices are moral choices, and now, using analysis from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, I’m going to describe for you the moral choices our state is collectively making in areas including education, health care, environmental protection, and the tax code with the new budget.
Surprisingly, there are some areas where the conservatives currently in control of state government have improved things since last year’s budget, but following two years of budgets full of devastating cuts since they’ve taken over, there’s little or no net improvement. These are the real-life consequences of electing the anti-government party to run the government. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center reports that:
The total General Fund allocation for the basic education subsidy will increase by $122.5 million, or 2%, from 2012-13 to $5.526 billion. … While the funding increase is welcomed, it is still less than the approximately $160 million needed for mandated pension cost increases at the school district level in 2013-14 – meaning fewer dollars for classrooms. Overall, the plan retains 81% of the state cuts to public school classrooms enacted in 2011.
This graph they provide as part of their report puts this year’s funding increases in the context of the cuts made over the last two years for each level of education.
You can see that the Department of Education, pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade education, classroom funding, and higher education each got modest increases in funding in the second column from the right, which shows the percent change from last year’s budget. But in the column all the way on the right, where it shows the percent change since the 2010-2011 budget – the last budget year before Republicans had full control of state government - you can see that since they’ve had control education has seen a net cut in three of the four categories, with the increase in the one exception being a mere four-tenths of one percent while higher education has been cut the most at twenty percent.
Let me make two points before moving on. First is my typical lefty point that it’s simply the right thing to do to provide all children with a great education so that those with fewer resources at home still have a chance to make it in life. But second is the cold, hard reality even right-wingers should care about that a great education helps make someone the most productive member of society they can be, so that after receiving the help of others through the government, they can become a tax-payer and give help to others through the government, rather than continuing to need help all their lives. Investments at the start to ensure better, less costly results later on are similarly crucial – and being gutted by conservative Republicans – in Pennsylvania’s health care system. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center analysis continues:
The budget does not include any language or appropriation to allow Pennsylvania to opt into an expansion of Medicaid health coverage as provided for under the federal Affordable Care Act … leaving the issue in limbo for now. … Funding for Medical Assistance – Long-term Care is down slightly from what the Governor proposed but $67.6 million (8.8%) more that [sic] 2012-13, rising to $838.5 million. General Fund dollars used for Home and Community Based Services are reduced by $41 million, or 22%. …
Autism intervention and services retains the Governor’s proposed $2.2 million increase, plus an additional $440,000 added by the Legislature, for a total increase from 2012-13 of $2.6 million (20%) to $15.6 million. The new funding in 2013-14 will allow 118 additional individuals to receive services. … The budget locks in the Governor’s $4 million funding decrease in Child Care Assistance, which provides subsidized child care for families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). …
A 10% funding cut enacted last year to county human services, including Behavioral Health Services, Homeless Assistance, and the Human Services Development Fund (HSDF), remain intact in this budget.
This is a more balanced mix of cuts and increases, but the big sticking point for me here is the first one, Medicaid expansion, an issue I’ve been covering for months now. Here we have the opportunity to give over half a million people in Pennsylvania health insurance who are uninsured right now, and all the money would come from the federal government, so it would improve the state’s economy as well as its peoples’ lives.
There is no moral justification for keeping these people from getting health care and letting some of them die, unless you consider anti-government extremism a moral justification. Trust me, as regular viewers of my YouTube show Counterpoint PA know, I’ve asked! I’m looking at you, Commonwealth Foundation. And as clear a moral issue it is when our fellow human beings’ lives are hanging in the balance, it should be considered just as clear a moral issue when their lives are threatened by the weakening of environmental protections. Again from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center:
The budget plan reduces General Fund dollars for state park operations by $20 million and state forest operations by $5 million, shifting those costs to the Oil and Gas Lease Fund. Overall funding will increase by $2.5 million. Still since 2009-10, General Fund support of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has been cut by $60.6 million, or 67%. Funding for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is up $2.9 million (2.3%) from 2012-13 to $127.7 million. Environmental protection funding has seen a series of cuts over the last several years. While there have been increases in environmental funding from other state funds, these have not been able to make up for the General Fund cuts — meaning decreases in air and water testing, and less ability to protect our environment.
And fewer people having their air and water tested means more people unknowingly being exposed to hazardously polluted air and water that can ruin their health. Here again there are two points to make. If you’re not compelled by the argument that nature should be protected for it own sake – which you should if you’ve read the state constitution – you should be compelled by the moral issues at stake when a family’s environment is polluted and their lives personally harmed.
But you know who benefits when Pennsylvania families have their environment sacrificed? Corporations whose profit margins are inflated when there’s less environmental accountability. This trade-off PA Republicans have made, siding with our state’s corporations instead of its people, is made even more stark in changes made to the state tax code by the new budget.
After years of talk about corporate tax loopholes, this bill takes a small step forward, acknowledging that loopholes are a problem and should be closed, but taking only tentative steps to do so. …
The capital stock and franchise tax (CSFT) has been extended for two more years under this plan, but the rates are quite low. Current law called for the tax to be completely eliminated in 2014. Under this plan, the rate declines from the current 0.89 mills to 0.67 mills in 2014, declines again to 0.45 mills in 2015, and is eliminated in 2016. In 1998, the tax rate was 11.99 mills and since then has been reduced by 85%. …
The corporate loans tax, a tax assessed on the value of outstanding corporate debt owed to Pennsylvania residents, is repealed at an eventual cost of $15 million per year.
They didn’t have enough money for the Department of Education, pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade education or higher education, but they had plenty of money for corporations.
The plan increases a cap on the net operating losses that a corporation can use to offset current corporate net income tax (CNIT). The current cap is the greater of $3 million or 20% of a company’s liability. This bill increases the cap to the greater of $4 million or 25% of a company’s liability in 2014 and $5 million or 30% in 2015. This is expected to reduce CNIT collections by $11 million in 2013-14 and $36 million in 2014-15.
They didn’t have enough money for Child Care Assistance, Behavioral Health Services, or Homeless Assistance, but they have millions extra for corporations they’re ready to let them keep instead of taxing it normally to reinstate these services for the people in the most dire need in our state.
Gas drillers succeeded in persuading Pennsylvania to adopt federal intangible drilling expense rules for personal income tax (PIT) purposes. This will allow owners of drilling partnerships to write off over three years a whole host of costs associated with drilling, as they do on their federal tax returns. … It is not known how much this will cost in lost revenue now. A large share of the companies drilling wells in Pennsylvania are specialized partnerships, so this could have a larger-than-anticipated cost.
They don’t have the money to protect our air and water as the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates, but they have such a surplus for the businesses that create pollution that they can give them a tax cut they can’t even calculate the cost of.
When you have one political party holding the PA House, the PA Senate, and the governorship, you get a very good idea of what that party stands for in the state budget. Sure, they had to negotiate internally, but that’s the point – they only had to negotiate internally. This budget is a product of the values and priorities of the conservative Republicans who at least until the next election are masters of our collective fate.
Budget choices are moral choices – or in this case, immoral choices.