With 15 minutes to spare, Governor Tom Corbett signed the lean $27.7 billion budget into effect for 2012-13.
“Our taxpayers deserve government that works for them,’’ Corbett said. “Today we reaffirm our commitment to job growth, to education, to the needy and to the taxpayers. While times are still difficult and we wish we had more to spend, our revenues have improved, allowing us to increase funding to some important areas of our final budget.’’
Education, the subject of most of Corbett’s scrutiny, will receive $11.35 billion toward early, basic and higher education. This is roughly the same amount of funding as last year’s budget, which will no doubt continue schools’ penny-pinching ways with continuing to cut certain classes and programs while trimming down on the number of teaching jobs.
However, the budget does provide small progress with an expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit — a program designed to target the students in the 15 percent of schools statewide that are not performing up to standards. The credit also benefits businesses who donate to the well-being of private education.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) said the budget is misleading, and that it will only continue to hurt Pennsylvanians.
“This is not a no-tax-increase budget,” said Dermody in a press release. “Because of this Governor’s failure to properly fund public schools and county human services, homeowners all across the state will see their property taxes go up this year, just as they did last year as a result of Corbett’s cuts. It didn’t have to be this way. Governor Corbett and his allies chose to inflict this pain on the people of Pennsylvania by leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table – reliable, sustainable revenue.”
In addition to education difficulties, the budget provides serious shortcomings to health and human services. The budget cut funding to seven county-directed human services programs to the homeless, the elderly, mental disability patients and people with alcohol and substance abuse problems by 10 percent. Agencies will now need to turn toward block grants set aside for this type of aid.
The 70,000 individuals receiving a $200 monthly payment under the General Assistance cash grant program will also feel the sting of the new state budget as well. The program is scheduled to end August 1. Recipients will receive their last payment July 27.
While the sky’s the limit as to what Democratic members of the legislature can choose to criticize, a new tax credit to the Shell Oil Company for its proposed ethane cracker plant will only add fuel to the fire (so to speak) in the ongoing debate of the health and safety of Pennsylvanians when it comes to gas drilling.
“Because of the Governor’s failure of leadership, the new budget imposes massive, unnecessary pain on Pennsylvania’s elderly, the state’s schoolchildren, our neighbors and family members struggling with chronic illness or disabilities, and people who simply want clean air and drinking water,” Dermody said.
However, in the slew of cutbacks and scorn, there are parts of the budget that could be promising for agriculture. Business taxes will be cut by $288 million, while they can also obtain benefits through tax credits and other incentives offered to companies committed to bringing business and jobs to the state.
The budget also phases out the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax for farming families, which had placed the financial responsibility of the farm onto the next generation in the family.
“Our farm families deserve the security of knowing that their sons and daughters will be able to follow in their footsteps and eventually hand the farm to their own children. The future of agriculture, our state’s number-one industry, is strengthened by ending the death tax on family farms,’’ Corbett said.
Still, with another “lean and demanding” budget signed into effect, Pennsylvanians will again feel the sting of Governor Corbett’s fiscally conservative ax.