This governor is full of metaphors. He’s very fond of comparing the state budget to pizza, saying helpful things like, “we had an 8-inch pizza and now we’re down to a 6-inch pie, but we … have an increase in demands.” [Delco Times, 5-30-12] Back in March, he explained to an unhappy audience of University of Pittsburgh students that public education accounts for 40% of the state budget: “Pennsylvania looks at education as its No. 1 priority … When the pizza pie goes from an 8-inch pie to a 6-inch pie, you still have that percentage, but not enough money.” [Pitt News, 5-31-12]
And in perhaps the most ironic twist on his folksy analogy, Gov. Corbett stood in front of a Porsche at a Lehigh Valley facility and repeated the gastronomic comparison. The Morning Call reported, “Corbett said the recession has reduced the size of the state’s economy from and 8-inch to a 6-inch pie, making less revenue available for the growing needs of its citizens, devoting larger and larger slices of the state budget to education and social welfare programs.” [Morning Call, 5-15-12]
I don’t know where Gov. Corbett buys his dainty pizza, but here in Yinzer Nation our standard pizza is a good extra-large 12-slice with a couple toppings. Preferably washed down with a beer in front of a Steelers game. And if we had a Porsche, we would not be eating pizza in it.
But Gov. Corbett chose his 8-inch to 6-inch analogy, so we’ll stick with that for a moment. By his cheesy logic, Pennsylvania’s economy shrank by a full 44% in the recession [see math note below]. Now there’s a number you don’t hear him – or anyone else – tossing around. Really? Almost half?
There’s no denying that our state revenues are down. But what the governor is trying to do with his incredible-shrinking-pizza metaphor is to make this solely a problem of existing revenues while refusing to look at alternatives – some of which don’t involve raising a single dime in taxes. We’ve got extra toppings we could be throwing on this pizza to feed the needs of all of our citizens, yet Gov. Corbett won’t even talk pepperoni. Here are some ideas for rolling the crust back out to a real size pizza:
- 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. (See “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. And what about smokeless tobacco?
- Rescind the new Voter ID bill: it solves no actual problem in the state, will most certainly face expensive legal challenge, and will cost taxpayers an estimated $11 MILLION to implement. (See “There Goes $11-million for Our Schools.”)
- Fix the cyber-charter funding formula: Taxpayers and school districts could have saved approximately $86 million in 2009-2010 if cyber charter schools received funding based on what they actually spent per student. (See “Trouble Seeing the Money.”)
- Shut down the EITC program: it costs us $75 million per year by funneling corporate tax money that should have gone to the state for our budget needs into the hands of private schools instead. (See “EITC: No Credit to PA.”)
Now that’s a lot of dough! But in a meeting Wednesday night with newspaper editors in the Eastern part of the state, Gov. Corbett insisted his number one priority is serving up smaller and smaller slices of pizza. In a sign of how effective our movement has become, the Delco Times commented, “Perhaps no place is that priority being debated more hotly than in the education arena.” After repeating his pizza metaphor, Gov. Corbett explained, “I don’t want to be doing this to school districts. I don’t want to have to do this every year, but we can’t give them money we don’t have.” [Delco Times, 5-30-12]
At least in this conversation, he didn’t try to blame school districts for the problem or suggest they spend their emergency reserves. (See “Insane, Irrational, Irresponsible.”) It would seem the governor’s office has backed off that tactic after our massive statewide protests last week, which garnered national media attention. But he returned to an old trick, trying to pit some needs against others, saying, “So if I’m going to propose increasing money for education, who do we take it from?” We call this “The Old Divide and Conquer Tactic” and we’ll have none of it, thank you very much.
Then the Governor pulled out another metaphor. Responding to a question about the possibility of increasing taxes on Marcellus shale drillers, he huffed, “everybody wants the silver bullet, the thing that will solve everything.” Actually, Governor Corbett, there are at least eight bullet points on my list above, and none of them is silver. Realistically, we expect you to use a combination of these strategies to address the current funding crisis in our public schools.
We don’t need extra topping pizzas or silver bullets. We need a political commitment from Republicans and Democrats alike to support our public goods. Here’s a tiny start: in one hallelujah moment, Gov. Corbett admitted to the editors, “We also need to look at charter schools, particularly cyber-charter schools, and how that money is spent.” Now see? That’s one of the (non-silver) bullet points we’ve been talking about.
Math note: Area of an 8 inch circle = 50.27. Area of a 6 inch circle = 28.28. The difference is 21.99, or 44%. In my original post I fell prey to the common misconception that the drop from 8 inches to 6 inches was a simple 25% reduction, forgetting that we are talking about the area of a circle. Many thanks to John Zimmerman for pointing this out. Governor Corbett and I can both attend a remedial math course at our local Community Colleges, assuming they survive these latest state budget cuts.