As expected, the Pennsylvania House passed a budget yesterday that does next to nothing to help our public schools. The debate now moves to the Senate, but if the strict party-line vote in the House was any indication, Republicans in Harrisburg are sticking to their mantra that the state is broke and can’t afford to adequately fund education. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai from here in Allegheny County claims that this proposed budget “lives within our means, just like families and businesses across the state.” [Penn Live, 6-12-13]
But when Rep. Turzai or Gov. Corbett and others say we have to “live within our means,” what they really mean is that our schools must continue to cut into the bone – ditching art, music, library, tutoring, Kindergarten, books, supplies, field trips, athletics, and thousands of teachers – while families struggle to make up the difference. That’s not living within our means, that’s just mean.
This is about budget priorities. There is money, but it’s not going to public education (or our other public goods). We could fully fund the vibrant, rich curricula and the educational programs our children deserve right now if our legislators wanted to. Here is our updated list of revenue ideas:
- Close the Delaware Loophole: It 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 estimated that more than half of last year’s budget gap was 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: Gov. Corbett wants to eliminate these as a gift to corporations and plans to eliminate them by next year. But if lawmakers freeze the tax at 2012 levels, the state could raise around $390 million.
- Eliminate sales tax exemptions: Helicopters and gold bullion top the list of hard-to-swallow exemptions. And what about smokeless tobacco? (See “Can They Fly Our Kids to School?”)
- Rescind the new Voter ID bill: It solves no actual problem in the state, is facing 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 be saving $365 million per year — that’s $1million per day — if cyber charter schools received funding based on what they actually spent per student. (See “One Million Per Day.”)
- Shut down the EITC programs: These two voucher-like giveaway programs now funnel $150 million (double the amount from last year) in public money to private and religious schools with no accountability for expenditures or student outcomes. [See “EITC: No Credit to PA” and “2-4-6-8, Who Do We Appreciate?”]
- Stop handing money to international giants. The new sweetheart deal with international giant Dutch Royal Shell will cost taxpayers $1.675 billion. (See “Can Shell Education Our Kids?”
- Close other tax loopholes. The “89-11” real estate transfer scheme has cost Pittsburgh schools millions of dollars. (See details at “Corporate Grinches“)
- Insist on PILOT payments from large non-profits such as UPMC. They would be supporting Pittsburgh schools to the tune of $8.5 million if they did this. (See “UPMC’s Fair Share“)
- Hold corporations to their word. Rivers Casino is trying to wriggle out of paying $1million a year to Pittsburgh schools after promising to be a good neighbor when we gave them perks for setting up shop in our city. (See “Rivers Casino’s Fair Share“)