Less than one week before Gov. Tom Corbett delivers his annual budget address, Pennsylvania Democrats fanned out across the commonwealth announcing their spending priorities.
They are calling on Corbett to focus on five main areas: education, Medicaid expansion, human service programs, jobs and development, and increasing the minimum wage.
“Every dollar increase in the minimum wage translates into an increase in spending by a low-wage worker’s household by $2,800,” said Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Brookline.) “This small economic policy change will infuse more dollars into the market and create even more jobs.”
Fontana, along with Senators Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) and Matt Smith (D-Mt. Lebanon,) outlined Democratic budget priorities at Mercy Behavioral Health in Pittsburgh, while their colleagues did the same in Erie, Hazleton, Johnstown, Philadelphia, Scranton and Harrisburg. Costa said Pennsylvania is lagging behind neighboring states when it comes to job growth and creation. He said more training programs are needed, which ties into the Democrats’ request for more investment in education.
“Senate Democrats are calling for a $300 million investment this year as a down payment, and it will be only a down payment, consider the draconian cuts that have occurred over the last three years by Governor Corbett,” said Senator Matt Smith. “It’s a significant effort, down the road, to restore all the dollars that have been cut over the last three years.”
That’s where numbers get a little sticky. The Corbett administration has said the drop in funding was due to the loss of one-time federal stimulus dollars and the level of state funding actually increased, while Democrats have said that’s not the case. Smith said a modest increase in education funding now would not fill the hole left from "three years of cuts."
“Education investments at all levels, beginning with Pre-K, will yield direct and indirect economic benefits for all Pennsylvanians and it’s not only the right move, but it’s the smart move for the future of Pennsylvania.”
In advance of his budget address and on the same day Democrats laid out their priorities, Corbett previewed a 2014-15 budget proposal to increase funding for Pre-K programs in the state by $10 million.
As far as paying for their budget priorities, Costa said they have outlined proposals including changes to the state’s unclaimed property program that would generate $150 million in savings, and modernization (not privatization) of the state’s liquor system.
“If we would do the Medicaid expansion, that would generate $400 million of savings in our budget,” said Costa. “$40 million – that is 40 percent of the way where we need to be.”
Corbett will deliver his budget address February 4th in Harrisburg.