The Old Divide and Conquer Tactic

“We are reducing the funding in education because we do not have the money — it’s that simple,” Governor Corbett said Monday. He was speaking about the cuts to public higher education, but he could have just as easily been speaking about the draconian cuts to pre-K and K-12.

We’ve heard precious little about the state education budget crisis from Governor Corbett himself. Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis and others have been quoted frequently of late trying to explain how, in their view, the $1 BILLION reduction to public schools has actually been an increase. (To which we say, “Enough with the Spreadsheet Debates.”) But now Gov. Corbett appears to be trying a new (very old) tactic: divide and conquer.

Saying the state simply doesn’t have the money, he asked, “Where would you have me take it from? Would you have me take it from social services? Would you have me take it from law enforcement or from the functions of government?” (Post-Gazette, 3-13-12) Pitting social services against public education, Gov. Corbett suggests that we can have one, but not both – when the proposed budget, in fact, cuts both to the very bone. This is not about choosing one over the other, this is about revenue priorities that put corporations before children.

Governor Corbett asks incredulously if we should find education money by taking funding away “from the functions of government.” I would like to remind him that funding public education is a function of government. In fact, it is the only service mandated by the Pennsylvania Constitution, which says specifically that it is the state’s responsibility to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” (Article 3, Section 14)

It’s time for the Governor to stop saying, “we don’t have the money,” and start asking, “where can we find the revenue?” Here are some suggestions we’ve been hearing from the people of Southwest PA:

  • Close the Delaware Loophole: costs our state $500 million in missed tax revenue every year and more than 20 other states have already closed this loophole.
  • Impose a severance tax on Marcellus shale: most states with major mineral resources like ours have a severance tax and not having one has cost Pennsylvania over $314 million since October 2009 alone.
  • Get rid of the new bonus depreciation rule: The state itself estimates that more than half of the current budget gap is due to a huge shortfall in corporate tax revenues – to the tune of $260 million. (Read more in “We Have a Priority Problem.”)
  • Keep the capital stock and franchise tax: Corbett wants to eliminate these as a gift to corporations, costing the state $200 million in revenue every year.
  • Eliminate sales tax exemptions: helicopters and gold bullion top the list of hard-to-swallow exemptions.

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