ASTRONG and stable middle class is what brought America to greatness in the 20th century, and a strong and stable middle class is what we need to pull ourselves out of the recession.

But since the mid-'70s, the middle class has shrunk at an alarming rate, with earnings for most American workers barely rising while gross domestic product per employed worker has grown considerably. There has been economic growth, but it hasn't trickled down to the middle class.

In Harrisburg and Washington,

we're seeing an attempt to put a nail in the coffin of the middle class. In Pennsylvania (and across the country), corporate interests are in the driver's seat while middle-class interests have taken a back seat.

But I'm not anti-corporate. Responsible corporate citizenry built the middle class and is what should soon bring economic prosperity back to our communities. There are cities and towns across the state that wouldn't exist if not for corporate investment. Their solid wages provided for the families of the Greatest Generation and the baby boomers.

But our new governor is poised in today's budget address to use the state deficit as an opportunity to further disempower our middle class.

As I've said time and again, we need to make responsible cuts to balance the budget. But we must temper those cuts with responsible corporate taxes to ensure that the burden isn't placed solely on the backs of the middle class.

Gov. Corbett recently chose to cut the health insurance of 41,467 working Pennsylvanians. Republican Gov. Tom Ridge founded the adultBasic program to provide health care for working individuals who made too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance.

These aren't the mythical welfare queens of the extreme right. The 41,467 who lost their insurance are working, doing the best they can in a tough economy to provide for their families. They tighten their belts, but because of growing inequity they cannot afford private health insurance even though they are employed.

Gov. Corbett chose to turn his back instead of finding revenue to support their health. He could have asked the "nonprofit" insurance companies to dip into their nine-figure reserves to help our hardworking friends and neighbors, but he didn't.

Nor is he willing to tax the gas companies drilling the Marcellus Shale. The revenue from an extraction tax could support adultBasic for the 41,467 and provide job-training programs so the companies could hire more Pennsylvanians instead of trucking in workers from Texas and Oklahoma.

Even if we had the highest severance tax in the U.S., the companies would still drill and make billions. A tax wouldn't chase business away; it would protect local taxpayers from having to pay for the damage drillers cause to roads and drinking water.

Unlike the greedy gas-drillers, unions are willing to do the right thing and negotiate to help the state stay solvent and provide needed programs for the middle class. A fight to demonize hardworking state employees and our public-school teachers by stripping their rights away may soon jump from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.

Our state's unions have expressed willingness to make concessions if it means keeping the middle class strong. If they are already willing to compromise, how will stripping our teachers, firefighters, police and other public servants of the right to join together and negotiate for fair working conditions save more money?

Pennsylvanians have tightened their belts as many notches as they can go. It's time to start talking about responsible capitalism that doesn't bleed the middle class dry. We need responsible corporate citizenry and responsible governance to fight corporate greed before it's too late for the hardworking families who make our nation great.

OUR BANKING system has stabilized and has built up big reserves, but it is not lending money to help small businesses.

Many corporations are seeing record profits, but they are still crying poor when asked to help everyone else return to prosperity.

I refuse to buy the argument that, if taxed, big business will have to pass it on to the little guy.

Corporations were responsible when they helped build the middle class, and we must hold them responsible now.

State Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, from the 149th District, can be contacted at

RepBriggs@pahouse.net. His website is pahouse.com/Briggs.