How Would You Balance the State Budget?

The Patriot-News asked us at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center to offer our thoughts on alternatives to Governor Tom Corbett's proposed state budget. You can read our take at the Patriot's web site.

In a nutshell, we called for a no-increase state budget for 2011-12 — with spending at $28.1 billion, the same as in 2010-11 but less than the enacted budget for 2008-09. Such a plan will require belt-tightening but would allow us to avoid deep cuts to public schools and universities.

As we wrote for The Patriot:

The recession has put a tremendous strain on state and local services. Enrollment in Medical Assistance among children has increased by 20%, and the share of families who have had to turn to Food Stamps has increased by 50% during that time. Since 2008, Pennsylvania state government has been doing more, much more, with less.

The commonwealth is coming out of the recession with strong job growth, adding 67,000 jobs in the first quarter, because it has invested in infrastructure, green energy and public schools.

Coming out of the recession, Pennsylvania should adopt a forward-looking state budget that preserves jobs and ensures our long-term economic success. Most economists believe, and most Pennsylvanians intuitively understand, that the key to the future is education and innovation. States with high growth — and high incomes — have a higher share of workers with college degrees. If Pennsylvania is to win the race, it needs to give more — not less — support to schools and universities.

The governor’s proposed budget has a different set of priorities. It increases spending for corrections, parole and state police, but cuts full-day kindergarten and programs to improve science education in our schools. Spending money at the beginning is a better investment for families and for society.

Gov. Corbett faces the challenge of balancing a budget that is one year away from recovery, a difficult task for any elected leader. But there are better choices: policymakers can close tax loopholes, delay business tax cuts and reconsider special interest tax breaks as part of a balanced approach to the budget.

We wrote this piece a few weeks ago before the April revenue numbers came in bringing the state's general fund revenue surplus to more than $500 million. So in addition to closing tax loopholes and enacting a gas drilling tax, lawmakers should use the revenue surplus to prevent cuts to our kids’ education and to health services for our grandparents and people with disabilities.

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