GOP budget cuts hurt vulnerable Pennsylvanians

A Marcellus Shale gas-drilling site near Latrobe. Gov. Corbett on Tuesday reiterated his pledge not to act on any natural-gas legislation until he can review recommendations in a report due in July.

Schools and social-service agencies across Pennsylvania have little choice now but to accept the reality that there’s little likelihood of avoiding damaging state budget cuts.

Like a clock with a used-up battery, Gov. Corbett has been stuck on a number for weeks. His insistence on a budget of about $27 billion is what the state will wind up with.

It’s fine that the governor wants to be more fiscally responsible than he believes his predecessor was. But his misplaced priorities in where spending cuts should occur are disturbing.

Give the Republican-controlled legislature credit for dialing back Corbett’s more draconian cuts to education and welfare programs, but it, too, failed the priorities test. Even worse, the Republicans ignored the Democrats through much of the budget process.

As a result, the proposed budget that was approved by the state Senate on Tuesday is a model of inconsistency when it is compared to Corbett’s stated policy goals.

In education, for example, Corbett has long championed charter schools as a logical alternative to poorly performing regular public schools. Yet, the GOP’s budget takes away the incentive to create charters by ending the state’s reimbursement of local districts for their charter-school payments.

A pillar of Republican philosophy is that poor people who are able should get off the dole and find a job. Yet, this budget makes it harder for them to do that. It cuts in half state funds for welfare-to-work programs and takes a 10 percent bite out of child care for low-income workers.

How does it make sense to cut these programs when the number of unemployed Pennsylvanians has increased 92 percent since 2007? How can you cut a half-billion dollars from the state welfare agency’s budget when the recession has increased caseworker workloads by 89 percent?

“These cuts are penny wise and pound foolish,” said Community Legal Services attorney Michael Froelich. “If it is more difficult for welfare moms to get jobs, education, training, and child care, more people will remain on cash assistance for longer.”

That Corbett doesn’t connect these dots suggests he may be a metronome governor, stuck on a beat when careful listeners can tell it’s off. Look at how he adamantly opposes a shale-gas tax, even though drillers say they wouldn’t object to a reasonable levy.

This legislature, urged by Corbett, seems more concerned with passing a budget by the July 1 deadline — something former Gov. Edward G. Rendell never did — than taking a more careful look at the damage their ill-placed spending priorities will do to the state.

They are not wrong in believing Pennsylvanians want their taxes spent more wisely. But they are wrong if they think that means people don’t care about the impact of this budget on their children’s education and on poor and sick people who need help.