Monday, October 5, 2009

Needed: A Sense of Urgency on the Budget

(This post originally appeared on the Public School Notebook blog on October 5, 2009

This blog post begins with a mea culpa: Friday at mid-day I posted a note on Facebook saying the House had just voted for a revenue plan that nullified the handshake budget agreement announced two weeks ago.

In actuality, it took the House another ten hours to vote for the plan. Almost five of those hours were filled with passionate speeches from House Democrats for the benefit of folks back home: about the harm a tax would inflict on the arts, culture and local fire companies, about the importance of taxing smokeless tobacco and paying to clean up the environment once corporations drill for natural gas. Republicans chimed in with well-worn arguments about the need to reduce government spending.

The truth is, the handshake agreement was off before the House even began debating an alternate tax plan. While speeches on the House floor may reassure voters, and while the House plan is much better than the one embodied by the handshake agreement (click here for analysis from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center ), Friday’s vote further delays passage of a budget that’s already more than three months overdue.

This is terrible news for children and families who depend on state-supported services including education, child care, behavioral health, mental health/mental retardation and child abuse prevention services, to name a few. Facing budget uncertainty as the school year began, a number of local school districts were forced to cancel programs that depend on state funding. Head Start and other early childhood education programs are shuttered. Youth workers have been laid off. Behavioral health professionals are working without pay. Many wonder how much longer this situation can last. And yes, each day does matter to kids who need these services.

What’s next? The Governor and leaders of the Senate are reportedly meeting to come up with a new spending plan. Frustrated with the delay, the Senate has been threatening to pass its own version of a spending bill. One concern is that it would be based on the dreaded SB 850, which the Senate passed in June. That bill called for deep cuts to basic education spending, pre-K, Head Start and a host of other programs. (Click here for cuts to children’s programs in SB 850:

A House revenue plan and a separate Senate appropriations plan could very well put us back at square one. Try telling that to the parents and early childhood education providers who are already talking about mobilizing for the next election—that is, if they survive this budget impasse.

• Ask your Senator and Representative to bring a greater sense of urgency to this year’s budget negotiations and to enact fair and sustainable revenue options next year.

• Ask your state Senator to support the House revenue plan.

Click here for contact information:

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Public Citizens for Children and Youth is a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of children in the five-county southeastern Pennsylvania area.