Pattye Benson

Community Matters

“Don’t Read my Lips; Read my Budget” . . . so said Gov. Corbett at today’s Budget Address

Gov. Tom Corbett delivered his budget speech at midday to a joint assembly of the House and Senate, suggesting “Don’t read my lips; read my budget.” For a full text of his speech, click here:

In his opening remarks, Corbett’s presented an overview of his budget including “ . . The substance of this budget is built on four core principles: Fiscal discipline, limited government, free enterprise and reform. . . ” Corbett’s fiscal year 2011-12 budget totals $27.3 billion, but no new taxes.

There has been much discussion concerning the economic woes facing school districts across the state. In his budget address, the Governor supports letting the taxpayers decide . . .

” . . . Now, we all know that there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to education funding: The property tax. Too often we have seen school boards raise property taxes to avoid hard and necessary choices. It’s human nature. When you’re spending someone else’s money it’s easier to say yes than no. I believe any new property tax increases beyond inflation should be put on the ballot. If school boards can’t say no, maybe the taxpayers will. Let’s listen to the taxpayers on this one. . . “

The governor takes on the teacher unions with teacher furlough remarks,

” . . . At the same time we need to give school boards some breathing room. There are too many mandates that tie the hands of local school boards. This administration is committed to curbing these mandates, including one that violates every law of economics: the inability to furlough employees when there isn’t the money to pay them. It puts the entire enterprise of public education at risk. . . “

Specifically, how did the Department of Education fair in Corbett’s budget? A quick review indicates that education will receive an expected major cut in funding. The proposed cuts to education include a 10 percent cut in basic education (K-12), which is a loss of $550 million across the state. The budget also eliminates all $260 million in grants that are being given this year to school districts to invest in learning, including pre-K, full-day kindergarten and class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade.

In his speech, Corbett asked public school officials to consider pay freezes; calculating that each year of this cost-saving measure would save school districts $400 million. Corbett said that he was returning the state education funding to the pre-stimulus funding level.

Addressing the state workers, unions, pensions and collective bargaining, Corbett’s approach was direct –

” . . . In Pennsylvania, we will be looking for salary roll backs and freezes from state employees as well as asking them to increase their contributions for healthcare benefits. We also need to start the conversation about the necessary repairs to our public retirement system.

I want to be clear about this to our union leaders. Collective bargaining doesn’t mean some ill-defined middle ground. It means finding the spot where things work. In this case it is going to have to work to the good of the taxpayer or it’s not going to work at all. Let’s find that place and meet there. Let’s keep things working. Neither side need lose for the taxpayers to win. We need to act on our financial challenges now, before they act on us. . . “

Although Corbett did not use the word, ‘voucher’ in his budget address, he was specific about his desire for school choice . . .

” . . . Pennsylvania needs to re-think how best to educate our children. We simply can’t work within a broken system. We need to change the whole system. We need a new set of priorities: child, parent, and teacher – and in that order. What we have now in too many places are schools that don’t work. Families are trapped in failing schools, or schools that are a bad fit. We need to develop a system of portable education funding; something a student can take with him or her to the school that best fits their needs. One size does not fit all. But as it now stands, not all get to choose. Let’s give them school choice. . . “

During his budget address, the Governor referred to the ‘Budget Dashboard’ available online. The dashboard is on the state website, is user-friendly and provides an easy access for information of individual state agencies. Here is a link to that reference:

If you are interested, here is a link to the entire budget — all 1,182 pages. If you decide up upload the file, remember this is very large file and suggest patience.

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  1. I haven’t had time to study the budget proposal in detail yet, but I do have one initial impression: a cut is not always a cut and increased aide is not always increased aide.

    We’ve had governors in the past who increased aide to the public schools but added new mandates with costs that far exceeded the new aide. If Corbett provides mandate relief with possible education cuts, it could possibly increase the funding available to our schools. We won’t know for sure until we study the budget in detail, but consider that possibility.

    T/E has spent a significant amount of money to comply with Rendell’s Keystone Exams. The cost of changing T/E’s curriculum to comply with Keystone Exams, combined with other new mandates, was equal to (if not higher) than the increased aide.

    If Corbett succeeds in allowing teacher furloughs for economic reasons, stops the Keystone Exams and reduces other unfunded mandates on the schools, T/E could wind up with more money even if state aide was reduced. (Districts like T/E are primarily funded by local taxes. The state gives a small amount of revenue but requires a HUGE number of mandates.)

    In particular, teacher furloughs are important because they introduce an important element to future union negotiations by giving the teachers an incentive to request only sustainable salary and benefit increases. In the past, school boards gave into union requests for big salary increases because they feared strikes. And teachers knew they could request unsustainable salaries without risking staff layoffs since it was illegal to furlough staff for economic reasons. The union will be less likely to push for unrealistic salary hikes if it knew it could result in teachers losing their jobs.

    It will be very interesting to see the details of the budget. Hopefully, any cuts will be accompanied with mandate reductions too.

  2. I don’t agree with some of his choices, but I do applaud Gov. Corbett for speaking in an inclusive and respectful manner to all Pennsylvanians – Gov. Walker (WI) could learn a few things from our governor!

  3. The Governor’s budget actually makes education funding what it probably would have been without the one-time infusions of federal government monies.

    Basically, the Governor has said: the previous administration and legislature spent one-time monies on education, now those one-time monies are gone — so we aren’t going to keep spending money we don’t have.

    While people may be upset by “cuts” to education, the truth is that these aren’t cuts so much as going back to the monies we actually have to spend.

    Governor Rendell liked to tout his record of funding education, but he ALWAYS left out the fact that the levels he raised it to were entirely unsustainable for taxpayers without a massive ($2.5 Billion) tax increase.

    More importantly, what did we get for an additional $2.5 Billion in funding? Really, not much. Philly schools (which received the lion’s share of $$) continued to fail at every level and other districts saw no remarkable increase in achievement. We did, as noted above, have numerous expensive mandates placed on local school districts.

  4. In contrast to Wisconsin, our Governor wants to INTRODUCE fair collective bargaining! The changes to the school code to allow economic furloughs would be game changing.

    Will that prospect prospect help or hinder one of the other big ideas: a one year freeze on salaries? $400 million statewide!!

    Although you’d think the union would dig in, we do have a spokesman for the PSEA saying that any decision to freeze wages would have to be made in each district and “we are neither encouraging them to do that or not to do that. We will have more conversations about that ….”.

    Hopefully we’ll get good estimates of the impact of the state funding changes on T/E at next Monday’s Finance Committee. A salary freeze would be worth ~$4 million.

  5. At the end of the day, this budget is realistic in its expectations of revenue, reduces expenditures in accordance with losing stimulus and other one-time revenues and actually increases the basic education funding by about 2%.

    The governor’s budget does not include any of the savings from a one-year salary freeze for school teachers, because he doesn’t have the power to make it happen. Now the ball is in the teachers’ union’s hands — to see whether it is truly about educating kids or if it is about money and power.

    Rather than taking no position as they have done, the PSEA could have stood up yesterday and said, “The Governor is right, we should share in this burden to help local taxpayers.” Instead, they punted. I think that shows their true thinking.

    One of the most interesting things about the budget was the fact that 10’s of millions more dollars in spending are necessary for pension obligations. This fact alone may spur the legislature/governor to action on REAL pension reform — because it affects every level of gov’t in PA.

  6. Does anyone actually believe the teachers’ unions will accept a pay freeze? Why would they accept a pay freeze if they’ve negotiated contracts guaranteeing them a pay increase? Look at Radnor, the teachers are holding out for bigger increases. In Lower Merion, the teachers pushed for and received a pay increase during the contract negotiations this year that is much higher than the Act 1 index.

    It’s just wishful thinking for Gov. Corbett to think the PSEA would ever voluntarily accept a wage freeze. And the PSEA response is spot on: they’re leaving it to individual school districts because they know that the districts don’t have the authority to impose a pay freeze in the middle of a contract and that districts negotiating the contracts now won’t be able to force pay freezes on teachers either without a strike.

    Unless something is done to allow teacher furloughs for economic reasons or to prevent teacher strikes, a pay freeze is completely unrealistic to expect.

    1. I have had several emails and calls in regards to this Christine. Today’s post gives a bit of history on the subject, hopefully the background will be helpful in understanding where we are currently.

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