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A Democrat's push to save Pa. budget

Get the GOP to address neglected needs and revenue.

Vincent Hughes

is a Democratic state senator representing parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County

In the next several weeks, critical decisions will be made about Pennsylvania's future. By the end of June, lawmakers and Gov. Corbett will adopt a state budget that will impact millions of Pennsylvania students, seniors, taxpayers, and those most vulnerable.

If we are interested in creating jobs, helping our schools, aiding seniors, and protecting our safety net from being torn to shreds by deep and ill-advised budget cuts, citizens must speak out now about how our tax dollars are used. We must revise the Republican budget plans.

The governor and House Republicans have offered budget proposals that are unacceptable and fail Pennsylvania. Whether in education, health care, or job creation, they fall far short of what is necessary to create a better future. The proposed cuts would put Pennsylvania in reverse and unnecessarily create too much hardship.

What's worse, both spending plans do not share pain evenly. They do not include revenue that would be gained from eliminating tax breaks for the largest corporations in the state or from responsible taxes imposed on Marcellus Shale drillers that could be used for environmental protection and infrastructure improvements.

Incredibly, neither the Corbett budget nor the House Republican plan calls for using portions of the growing $506 million revenue surplus that is available to ease the pain of deep budget cuts. Their proposals are balanced on the backs of working families and children while giving the commonwealth's largest companies a pass.

As a result of the justified criticism of House GOP leaders, they are beginning to back away from their plan. They have publicly acknowledged that significant, additional education restorations are needed and that the growing revenue surplus should be used. They've also indicated that they are open to discussing a Marcellus Shale levy and that their plan to eliminate a dedicated tobacco settlement fund may be abandoned. That is a good start toward compromise, but it's not enough.

Last month, Senate Democrats recommended realistic budget alternatives. Our plan identified at least $750 million in potential savings, along with the state's growing surplus, to restore critical funding for education, health care, child-care assistance, and essential economic development.

Our plan would restore funding in key areas:

Accountability block grant and charter school reimbursements for local school districts.

Higher education, particularly for state-related and state system schools;

Hospital reimbursements for uncompensated care, critical-care access, and other specialty care.

Essential county and municipal assistance programs, including the Human Service Development Fund, Housing and Redevelopment Assistance, and Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance.

Job creation and training programs.

In the coming weeks, Senate Democrats will work with our Republican colleagues to address the many shortcomings of the current budget proposals. We can develop a realistic spending plan that meets the needs of Pennsylvania.