State budget focus remains wrong

Early in December I stood on the House floor and stated that the state budget contained in House Bill 1460 was the “art of the possible.” The budget that the House and Senate sent the governor before Christmas is a full 12-month budget. It is a budget that meets the needs of Pennsylvania without overburdening the working families of Pennsylvania with large tax increases. The governor, sadly, does not see it this way.

We have worked diligently to end this impasse. We passed a balanced budget in June, which Gov. Tom Wolf made the unprecedented move of vetoing in its entirety. We passed a stop-gap budget in September that, once again, the governor vetoed so he could keep students, nonprofits, and human service agencies as hostages for more taxes. And now we have passed House Bill 1460, which is a full 12-month budget that adds $405 million more for PreK-12 education. The reason that there is funding going to our schools, nonprofits, and county human service agencies is because the Legislature did its job.

While I am glad the governor signed part of the budget, I was dismayed by the tone and campaign rhetoric that he used during his announcement. The governor thinks a budget that adds $405 million for PreK-12 education is “garbage.” He believes that a budget that adds money for 350 new state police troopers is “ridiculous.” He believes that increases for services to seniors, domestic violence centers, rape crisis centers, and services to special needs individuals is “unconscionable.”

The governor would have you believe that this budget cut education funding. His flawed math and outright fabrication are easy to see. The reality is that this budget would add $405 million for PreK-12 education. That would result in the highest level of education spending in the history of the Commonwealth. Instead, the governor cherry picks only a couple of line items instead of focusing on the entire education budget. This is disingenuous at best.

The governor has also decided to reject the hard work of the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission and instead is using his own formula to drive out education spending to targeted school districts. The commission worked for many months in a bi-partisan fashion to adopt a formula that was unanimously agreed to by the House, Senate, and the governor. Now he is going back on that. Gov. Wolf is also ignoring the intent of the $50 million increase in the Ready to Learn Block Grant and instead giving an outsized share of the money to specific school districts.

I disagree with the governor. The budget we sent to him was a responsible budget that made key investments in issues that are important to Pennsylvanians. Furthermore, it was a budget that actually passed the Legislature and made it to the governor’s desk. While there was a lot of talk about the “Framework Budget,” the votes were not there for the tax increases necessary to support that high level of spending.

So, instead we focused on a budget that could pass the House and Senate. This is a strong budget that meets the needs of our commonwealth, while increasing education spending by $405 million. This is a budget that I was proud to support. The time for campaign rhetoric has passed. A completed budget requires the House, Senate and the governor to compromise from their current positions. As we go forward, I look forward to actively working with the governor to get this budget done.

Adolph, of Springfield, is majority chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee.