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Chester County Press

Four Years of Corbett/Lawrence budgets: A failed record

07/09/2014 09:44PM ● By Acl

Letter to the Editor:

I could not agree more strongly with the views expressed by Susan Rzucidlo in last week’s Chester County Press concerning the newly enacted (but as of this writing, not yet signed) state budget for 2014-15.  

From the U.S. Congress to our state legislature down to local school boards and townships, the adoption of an annual budget is an opportunity to reflect on critical needs and shared priorities.  This year’s budget—like the first three budgets enacted during the tenures of Tom Corbett and John Lawrence—missed that opportunity.

Here’s what I would have done differently:

Close corporate tax loopholes. Every year, hardworking citizens cover the tab for some of the nation’s largest companies (think Heinz, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart) that can take advantage of special rules to reduce their tax liability, sometimes all the way down to zero. One exception, the Delaware Loophole, provides approximately $500 million in annual savings to major corporations—leaving you to pick up the tab. What’s worse, the loopholes don’t deliver any broad-based benefit to our state’s economy, as evidenced by Pennsylvania’s dismal performance in job growth rankings (48th out of 50 states at last count). I’ll work to close these loopholes, enact a more consistent tax structure that levels the playing field between big and small businesses, and ensure homeowners aren't subsidizing record corporate profits.

Institute a fair natural gas extraction tax. A study by Pennsylvania’s nonpartisan fiscal office found that the commonwealth has one of the nation’s lowest effective tax rates for what amounts to a booming industry.  For perspective, consider that Louisiana and Texas—hardly examples of liberal, high-tax states—have energy tax rates that dwarf Pennsylvania’s. No example better illustrates Harrisburg’s obsession with protecting special interests at the expense of your interests. I’ll stand up to the special interests and support Tom Wolf’s efforts to enact a 5 percent extraction tax that will allow us to meet our state’s core obligations.

Enact a school funding formula. Pennsylvania is one of just a handful of states without a predictable, research-based method for distributing state school aid. And it shows. Under Governor Rendell, local school districts received significant increases in state aid based on objective measures, such as population growth and local tax effort. When the state did its part, local districts were better able to control property taxes. For example, Avon Grove was able to keep tax rates level for six consecutive years.  The Corbett/Lawrence agenda on school funding has been a steady reduction in state support, increased state mandates for education, and a shifting of burden onto homeowners.  I’ll fight to enact a school funding formula to ensure that rural, fast-growing, and high-need school districts get their fair share.

Drain legislative reserves. While school districts and programs that serve our state’s most vulnerable citizens have suffered, the state legislature’s reserve (I call it “slush”) has ballooned to more than $150 million. This fund is on top of the legislature’s annual $300 million budget—one of the largest in the nation. It would be hard to justify these levels of expenditures under the best of circumstances, but it defies all logic when you consider the legislature’s abysmal record on the major challenges confronting our state. As your State Representative, I’ll work to drain these reserves and reduce the legislature’s budget by 20 percent—the same degree of cuts imposed by this governor and my opponent on several essential state programs, including support for public higher education. I’ll lead by example and reduce costs for the 13th District legislative office by 20 percent from current levels.

The current situation in Harrisburg is maddening because the solutions are so obvious.  Ask major corporations to share basic tax obligations to reduce the load on local businesses and homeowners. Impose an extraction tax like almost every other natural gas-producing state.  Return to a school funding formula that bases aid on need, not politics. And subject career politicians to the same level of budget austerity they expect of vital programs that deliver actual services to average Pennsylvanians.

We can make real change in Harrisburg, but not with the same stale approach and continued deference to the special interests. On Nov. 4, from governor on down, you have the power to dictate a new direction and a return to common sense in Harrisburg.

Ann Schott

State Rep. candidate 13th district