by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
A coalition of Pennsylvania Senate Democrats gathered at Philadelphia School District headquarters Thursday to propose 10 policy ideas that the lawmakers say would generate $1.1 billion for a variety of state budget line-items – including $300 million for education – without raising any broad-based taxes.
The group says the state can achieve these funding increases by finding savings in existing spending and generating additional revenue.
The largest savings, the coalition says, would come from Pennsylvania accepting the federal Medicaid expansion. By accepting that provision of the Affordable Care Act, the lawmakers anticipate a windfall that would release $400 million from other state budget line-items.
Other budget-cutting and revenue-raising options include modernizing (not privatizing) the state's wine and spirit stores ($125 million); ending the "pension double dip" for charter schools ($85 million); freezing the planned phaseout of capital stock and franchise taxes ($75 million); and implementing a tax on smokeless tobacco ($36 million).
"Pennsylvania needs to go in another direction," said State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, before offering his own "State of the State."
Pennsylvania's unemployment rate has climbed higher than the national average, he said, while private-sector job creation has dipped to 46th place. The state's credit rating has fallen twice in two years. And local property taxes have been on the rise statewide, he said.
Of the $300 million in additional education spending, the group proposes increases to the specific education budget line-items that have been slashed since Gov. Corbett took office. These include increases to the accountability block grant ($100 million), charter reimbursement ($85 million), tutoring ($50 million), early learning ($40 million), and special education ($25 million).