| Feb. 3
Feb. 3 Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who is
facing an uphill battle as one of the most vulnerable U.S.
governors up for re-election this fall, is expected to propose
spending more money on education in what could be his last
annual budget address on Tuesday.
Critics have scorned the Republican, saying he earlier
slashed funding for public schools and colleges by at least $1
It is far from clear where Corbett, who has already
announced some increases in education spending, will get the
funds. The Keystone state is facing a budget gap of at least
$1.2 billion and its economic recovery is still only limping
"He's going to want to use his budget to shore up political
liabilities. But he's doing so in an environment that is very
constrained," said Christopher Borick, a professor of political
science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
Corbett last week he said he would boost funding for the
state's pre-kindergarten program by $10 million. He also
challenged the state's education funding formula in January,
saying it's unfair and needs to be changed.
"It's a matter of where he finds that money and how he pulls
it off," said Pennsylvania Representative Frank Dermody, the
House Democratic leader. "He's going to have to rob Peter here
to pay Paul."
Indeed, pension obligations will balloon by $610 million
next year, contributing to a deficit of $1.2 billion or more.
Corbett may seek savings by renewing calls for changes to the
In addition, state revenues could come in $110 million less
than previously forecast, according to the Independent Fiscal
Office, a budget watchdog.
There's scant indication the state can grow its way out of
its problems. With the exception of New Jersey, Pennsylvania
created a smaller percentage of new jobs in December, compared
to the prior 12 months, than all other states in the Northeast
and all of its neighboring states, according to U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics data.
WHAT THE OPPOSITION WANTS
Corbett has faced a drubbing in the polls since he took
office in January 2011. As of Thursday, less than a quarter of
Pennsylvania voters said he deserved to be re-elected, according
to a Franklin & Marshall College poll.
Democrats blame tight budget conditions on more than $1.2
billion in corporate tax cuts and subsidies under Corbett, not
including another $880 million for the coming fiscal year.
To raise revenues, Democrats want the governor to expand
Medicaid under Obamacare, which could bring in $400 million.
They also want to suspend a phase-out of the capital stock and
franchise tax, impose new taxes on natural gas extraction and
smokeless tobacco, and modernize the state's liquor sale system.
But for many, the budget battles come back to education, a
sensitive topic in a state that has seen schools lose teachers,
programs and employees.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's biggest city, the school
district cut 3,800 staffers last year. It has shuttered two
dozen schools over two years and is now trying sell some of
those buildings to raise cash. It rehired about 1,000 employees
in the fall after the state kicked in additional funding.
Corbett's Democratic predecessor, Ed Rendell, cut the
state's share of basic education funding in the 2010 and 2011
budgets as revenues slumped, relying on temporary stimulus money
until those federal funds dried up.
In 2012, Corbett brought state funding for education back up
to 2008 levels, but that was still at least $500 million below
the previous year's total without the stimulus funds. For the
current fiscal year, Pennsylvania is spending $5.5 billion on
"They've stripped away significant resources to our public
schools," said Senate Democratic leader Senator Jay Costa. "I
fully expect they will make an additional (education allocation)
to try to rehabilitate his dismal numbers."
Corbett argues that he has dedicated more state revenues to
basic education than at any time in Pennsylvania history.
"He's right, but that's not the narrative that's existing on
the schools as they lay people off," said G. Terry Madonna,
director of the Franklin & Marshall poll. "That's the narrative
that he hasn't been able to manage, and that's hurting him."