On Tap Today: Budget Vote, School Rally & Lives on the Line

Today is a busy day at the State Capitol. Superintendents from cuts-ravaged urban school districts are in town to press for more education funding. Harrisburg, York, Lancaster, Allentown, and Reading, among others, are looking at a third year of deep cuts to student programs.

Last week the School District of Philadelphia sent pink slips to 3,783 staff, part of a doomsday plan to fill a remaining shortfall of $300 million. Allentown announced this week the planned elimination of 132 positions, including the layoff of 99 teachers.

Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite and Mayor Michael Nutter were in town yesterday, trying to build support for legislation authorizing the School District to impose a $2-per-pack cigarette tax and increasing the city’s liquor by the drink tax, enacted in 1996, from 10% to 15%. They’ll first have to get the Philadelphia delegation to move that plan forward (Senate Bills 944 and 945), currently sponsored by Senator Anthony Williams.

The big surprise of the day is that the House, which debated amendments to its budget proposal (House Bill 1437) on Monday night, put off its scheduled Tuesday evening budget vote. House leaders say they wanted a fresh start for what was expected to be a long debate; others speculate there is trouble in paradise.

The House Democrats drafted an omnibus amendment to the budget that laid out their spending priorities clearly: restoring $1 billion in education cuts over three years, with a $300 million down payment in 2013-14, $20 million for community colleges, $45 million to PHEAA in student loans, and more. A vote to send the bill to the Appropriations Committee to consider the amendment failed on a party line vote.

House Republicans were very sensitive to the case made for additional public school funding. House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph took pains to defend the education portion of the spending plan (the House added $10 million — 0% — to the Governors $90 million increase) and defended the General Assembly’s treatment of distressed schools, arguing that everyone was getting at least what they got last year. Cold comfort to students in study hall or crowded into classrooms edging towards 35 students.

The House budget keeps a planned tax cut for profitable corporations. Not a word from House Republicans on a proposal under consideration to put off a schedule tax break (on a tax that has been cut by 85%) and to use the money for something that will actually create some jobs, like schools and human services.

Meanwhile, buses are heading into Harrisburg today with hundreds of Pennsylvanians for Lives on the Line, a lobby day and rally in support of the Medicaid expansion. There is growing bipartisan support for the expansion in both the House and Senate, as lawmakers understand it is foolish to leave money on the table, especially money that brings with it jobs and economic growth, something Pennsylvania seems to be lacking these days.

Today’s event will focus on the people who will gain insurance coverage if the state acts to accept the expansion. Their stories are heartbreaking and compelling, and all too common.

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