HARRISBURG, Pa., Feb. 9, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In front of a joint session of the General Assembly, Governor Tom Wolf today laid out the crisis facing Pennsylvania and the critical decision lawmakers in the House and Senate must make this year: fix Pennsylvania's structural budget deficit and invest in schools or continue down a path of greater devastation and face further, billion dollar cuts to both our schools and essential social services.
"There are two paths we can take: we can fix our deficit and invest in education to move Pennsylvania forward or we can continue to embrace the failed status quo and cut $1 billion from education funding, cut hundreds of millions of dollars to essential social services and continue to stifle the commonwealth's economic growth," said Governor Wolf. "If we do not act to end the era of deficit denial, one time fixes and budget gimmicks, the consequences will be billions of dollars in property tax hikes for Pennsylvanians and cuts to our schools and critical services for women, children, and seniors.
"Our education system, already threadbare after years of cuts and underfunding at the state level, will take a ruinous hit. More than 23,000 teachers, guidance and career counselors, special education aides and nurses will be laid off and yanked out of our schools. Tens of thousands of Pennsylvania children will lose access to early education that we know is key to future success."
Governor Wolf called on lawmakers to return to the Capitol and send him the compromise budget that Republican leaders agreed to, then walked away from at the end of last year. That budget put responsibly addressed the structural budget deficit and began to restore previous cuts to our ailing school system and essential social services.
To avoid further cuts to those same programs and more, the governor also outlined his plan for 2016-2017, which would put our commonwealth on more secure footing than it has been in years and make targeted investments in education, job creation and programs to combat addiction and reform our criminal justice system.
Governor Wolf is still fighting to restore the cuts made by the previous administration, but inaction by the Republican-controlled legislature has left us with underfunded schools and a ballooning deficit. Failure to act on the deficit will result in a horrible replay of the consequences of cuts made under the last administration: laying off 23,000 teachers and other school professionals, cutting special and technical education, the loss of early childhood education for tens of thousands of kids, and skyrocketing local property taxes. Worst of all, doubling down on these cuts would result in less of our kids competing in the global economy and more of them entering the criminal justice system.
The Governor's 2016-2017 Budget chooses a different path by reaffirming his strong commitment to education in Pennsylvania by expanding his call to restore critical education funding cuts, provide unprecedented support to high-quality pre-k programs and ensure students are college and career ready. It builds on the investment in the bipartisan budget compromise to further invest $200 million in basic education and $60 million in early childhood education. It invests more in higher education and proven career and technical education programs.
If we do not act to eliminate our deficit, nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania homeowners will see their already-too-high property taxes skyrocket even further. Property taxes will continue to increase for businesses, choking economic growth. This has played out over the past 4 years. Since state budget cuts to schools in 2011 - and then to social services in 2012, school districts and counties have been forced to increase local property taxes by more than $1.2 billion dollars.
Pennsylvania can build on a bipartisan budget agreement by taking on the status quo: eliminating the deficit and work with businesses to drive economic growth in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf's proposal calls for addressing our deficit and investments in proven job creation tools, workforce development and job training programs and improving economic opportunity for young Pennsylvanians.
Over the past year, Governor Tom Wolf has worked hard to make sure Pennsylvania's government is responsive and responsible in fulfilling its duty to provide essential social services for our most vulnerable. But we are at a crossroads here too. Pennsylvania's deficit is a ticking time bomb over Pennsylvania that will force us to cut funding for human service programs and senior assistance in order to balance the budget.
Failure to ensure responsible funding will result in cuts of nearly $200 million to prescription drug assistance and home and community based services. Pennsylvania seniors who depend on that assistance to pay for life-saving medications will be forced to pay more out of pocket. Further consequences would be cuts to programs to help crime victims, people living with mental illness or intellectual disabilities, and addiction, and child care assistance for 211,000 that helps working parents.
Governor Wolf remains committed to making state government more efficient and improving customer service, rather than continuing down the path that relies on unfair cuts to important programs that help real people in need – and ultimately cost us more in the long run. The Wolf Administration is on track to save $150 million in the current fiscal year. Governor Wolf's budget includes: another $11 million in immediate savings by merging corrections and parole; moving the eHealth Partnership Authority to the Department of Human Services; expansion of contract reform that saves money and improves outcomes; and reforms to our public pension system.
Pennsylvanians can find out more about Governor Wolf's goal for Pennsylvania here governor.pa.gov/budget. Full details and a line-by-line analysis of the budget are also available on governor.pa.gov/budget/#more-info
Facebook users still have time to ask the questions for the governor's Facebook Town Hall later today by posting on the town hall event page. At 3:30pm, the governor's answers will be live streamed on his Facebook page, Facebook.com/GovernorWolf.
MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Sheridan, 717.783.1116
SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor