Just how low will our Governor go? Gov. Corbett’s approval ratings are in the tank, the lowest they’ve ever been. And he seems to be trying very hard not to talk about cuts to the state’s education budget, which he will formally propose next week. Yet he appears prepared to hold students hostage in negotiations over the looming pension crisis.
In a new poll, Gov. Corbett’s approval rating sank two more points since November, hitting an all time low of just 36%. Only 31% of the women surveyed approve of the job he is doing. And he actually polled the worst right here in his home county, where only 27% of Allegheny County residents approve of his performance. Do you think it has something to do with those massive state budget cuts to education and social services? Or his refusal to provide leadership on our crumbling infrastructure and transit needs? This administration seems to be deaf to the massive damage it has caused in our communities, so it’s not surprising that the poll found, “There is no strong base of support for Gov. Corbett among any income or age group or in any region of the state.” [Post-Gazette, 1-30-13]
Yet Gov. Corbett continues to talk about his crippling budgets as “tough choices,” repeating again on Tuesday, “the people elected me to make the tough choices.” [Post-Gazette, 1-30-13] The fact is, Corbett has indeed made choices – at the expense of our children. He and the legislature chose to cut nearly $1billion from our schools, then hard wired those cuts into the state budget at the same time they invented new ways to funnel public taxpayer dollars to private schools and corporations. They increased the EITC tax credit program to $100 million and created another $50 million “voucher in disguise” program siphoning off resources from public education. [See “2-4-6-8, Who Do We Appreciate?”] They’ve refused to reform the charter funding formula, which is costing us nearly $1 million every single day. [See “One Million Per Day”.]
At the same time, Gov. Corbett and his allies continue to give away millions on top of millions of our dollars to corporations. Last summer when the legislature refused to halt the ongoing phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax, it cost us taxpayers another $275 million over two years. Corbett’s proposed cracker plant in Beaver County will give away $1.7 billion to the mega-global corporation Dutch Royal Shell over the next 25 years: that’s $67 million per year in “tough choices” for our kids and their schools. [See “Can Shell Educate Our Kids?”]
We have to understand that budgets are about priorities. And Gov. Corbett has made his very clear. Yet, some of his GOP colleagues are starting to express some concerns of their own. Yesterday, both Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Sam Smith (both Republicans from Jefferson County) spoke out about Gov. Corbett’s apparent attempts to change pension benefits for public employees and to tie school funding to proposed savings in state retirement contributions. This essentially sets up a false choice between kids and teachers, and Gov. Corbett appears ready to pit one against the other instead of finding real bipartisan solutions to this crucial issue.
In good news, Rep. Scarnati told reporters that any further cuts to public education would be “a very sensitive issue” and that “I don’t see the likelihood of this body going along very well in reducing funding for public schools.” [Post-Gazette, 1-30-13] We’ll take that as another sign of just how effective our state-wide grassroots movement for public education has been this past year.
Unfortunately, “no further cuts” really means a third year of damage from the devastating $1 billion thrashing our schools took – and are still taking. The bottom line is that those cuts have compounded each year as our school districts have spent down their reserves trying to make up the difference. At this rate, for instance, Pittsburgh projects it will be broke by the year after next. School districts here in Southwest PA have cut essential educational programs to the bone, completely amputating others, to try to stop the bleeding. But the pain has not gone away and our kids are the ones who are hurting.
It’s time to tell our elected officials that they must make adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding for our public schools a priority. The current situation is not acceptable. And we refuse to have our kids offered up as a sacrifice in a pension “solution” that offers a false choice between schools and teachers. How low will Gov. Corbett go?