Seeking to influence the state budget debate, about 100 social service and early childhood education providers and their allies, many still hurting from funding delays incurred last year in the protracted budget battle, rallied Thursday outside the Delaware County government center in Media.
Their message: Increase business taxes to help close the state budget gap, rather than cutting education and social services. They carried signs that read "We Pay Our Fair Share; Big Business Should Too," "Show Some Guts: No Service Cuts," and "Cutting Services Undercuts Children."
Organized by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Budget Coalition, the rally was made up of nonprofit education and social service groups, unions, and human services advocacy organizations. It came as the House was debating budget proposals that would tax cigars and smokeless tobacco, impose a Marcellus Shale gas-extraction tax, and eliminate a provision that allows vendors to keep some of the sales taxes they collect.
House Democrats were unable to muster the votes to pass the package earlier this week, but say they remain committed to resolving differences and sending the legislation to the Senate soon.
Senate Republican leaders have resisted tax increases, but in recent weeks have expressed willingness to consider a tax on gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale.
The Democratic-controlled House already has passed a $29 billion state budget proposal that included a $355 million increase in basic education spending and other Rendell administration priorities. The Republican-dominated Senate has yet to take action on the budget, but some GOP leaders have suggested that education spending should not be increased by as much as Rendell and the House want.
At the rally Thursday in Media, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood called on the legislature to support Rendell's proposed basic-education increase, a centerpiece of his budget proposal. Low high school graduation rates lead to higher crime rates and more government spending on law enforcement, Chitwood said, adding: "Please join with me in telling [the legislature] we can pay now or pay later."
JoAnn Weinberger, the head of the Center for Literacy, has a staff of about 70 who provide literacy training for about 3,000 adults in Philadelphia and Delaware County. State funding for adult literacy was cut 24 percent last year, Weinberger said, and that led to a waiting list now of more than 10,000 people.
"The message for the legislators," she said, "is clear: Pass a fair budget that provides the education, human, and social services that are needed."
Richard Elam, the executive director of the Mount Pleasant Community Development Corp., a nonprofit nursery, preschool and kindergarten program that serves about 100 children in Twin Oaks, Delaware County, said, "The budget impasse last year cost us tremendously" in decreased enrollment and canceled programs. A cut in funding "may close our doors."
Elam urged the legislature to be "wise and put the money up front, so you don't spend millions later" on dropouts and the prison population.
In an interview before the rally, Elam said:
"If it means sacrificing our children to save dollars, what kind of society are we?"