It's Our Money (OK, mostly Ben) helped out with this Daily News editorial pointing out that while on the one hand it's nice that Pennsylvania's long, hard slog to a budget may be coming to an end, the budget Harrisburg appears to be settling on is really, really bad. Some examples:
Big cuts to social services. The budget agreement cuts more than $50 million from the Department of Public Welfare, which administers programs to help low-income children and families. Child-care programs will take the biggest bite, losing more than $25 million in funding. Services for the homeless will also lose $7.5 million. During a time of economic hardship, we shouldn't be cutting back on help for the people who need it the most.
Environmental protection takes a big hit. The spending plan also calls for the Department of Environmental Protection to lose $70 million in state funding. Program cuts will include clean-water initiatives and conservation efforts. These cuts could undermine Pennsylvania's ability to compete in the future.
Rainy Day Fund goes dry: The budget deal transfers the entire $755 million balance of the Rainy Day Fund to the General Fund. The state will face a multiyear problem and the 2010 budget process is going to be no walk in the park. By using all of this money, lawmakers have deprived themselves of options in the future.
Natural-gas extraction remains untaxed. Companies mining natural gas in Pennsylvania do not pay for the privilege, while they must in every other state. It's outrageous considering the environmental damage done by mining companies and the cuts to state conservation programs. The final kicker: The budget agreement expands the amount of land open to mining without increasing funding to monitor the impact on Pennsylvania's natural resources.
So does smokeless tobacco. Thanks to the influence of industry lobbyists, Pennsylvania will remain the only state besides Florida that doesn't tax chew and snuff.
Tax breaks for big business. Lawmakers snuck a change to the tax code that is a giant gift to major corporations. The cost to taxpayers? More than $100 million a year.
It remains unclear to me what Pennsylvania Democrats got in their negotiations with Senate Republicans. No arts and culture tax, OK. But in exchange for quite a lot, right?
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