Gov. Corbett's first budget raised serious questions about the veracity of the math he was using in his spending plan. It didn't take long to realize the governor's claims were wrong and unsupportable. The social and financial costs of the governor's fuzzy arithmetic have resulted in hardship and pain for citizens throughout Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, his fuzzy math continues this year, leading many to conclude that his budget arithmetic has less to do with real numbers, as he claims, and more to do with making his policies fit into a far-right agenda.
In last year's budget, the governor underestimated the revenue surplus by more than $700 million. He said the cost of the Bonus Tax Depreciation Credit he gave to big corporations (without extracting a commitment from them to create jobs) would cost state taxpayers $200 million. Twelve months later, the cost is nearly $400 million.
In February, Corbett predicted this year's deficit would be more than $700 million. On May 1, the state's Independent Fiscal Office said the red ink would be about $300 million. The Senate Democrats on the Appropriations Committee predict the figure will fall below $200 million, given March and April collections that have reduced our year-to-date shortfall substantially.
There is an impact when the math is this far off. Education cuts resulted in layoffs for 15,000 skilled teachers, bus drivers, classroom aides, and others. Nearly 70 percent of the school districts raised local property taxes. College students attending the 18 state-owned and state-related universities faced tuition increases averaging 8 percent, in addition to reduced class offerings and scheduling difficulties that extended their college stays.
Fuzzy math reduced state support for economic development programs by $115 million. As a result, employment gains have been limited, while our unemployment rate has stagnated at around 7.6 percent.
Why should Corbett and his administration pursue this course? Perhaps his goal is to satisfy a far-right agenda of cutting government and shifting tax responsibilities away from well-heeled special interests.
I believe the governor has his foot on the neck of the poor, public school students, college students, women, and working families. Our governor has presided over the unnecessary loss of Medical Assistance health benefits for 89,000 low-income children. He sought dubious restrictions on food-stamp eligibility. His skewed budgeting took away affordable health insurance for 41,000 families. This year, counties, school districts, universities, hospitals, and nursing homes face more debilitating cuts.
There is a better way. My Senate Democratic colleagues and I have outlined a budget plan that would use smart policies and innovations, and leverage private dollars, to generate more than $3.5 billion for investments in job creation, safety-net programs, and education. Our plan does not raise taxes, and it counts the money correctly.
To move forward, Pennsylvania must break free of extremist, reactionary philosophies and reject fuzzy budget numbers that are based on rhetoric and not arithmetic. Our reality-based plan moves us forward to regain the jobs and progress that the people so justly deserve.