Southeast PA coalition protests budget cuts
If legislators in Harrisburg expect to come home to an electorate satisfied with a budget passed on time, they may be in for a surprise. Thursday afternoon, the Southeastern PA Budget Coalition, a group of social service providers, unions, community organizations, and advocacy groups, staged a rally outside Philadelphia’s City Hall to protest the various cuts the state budget entails.
Passions ran high as the group of around 400 people, armed with bullhorns and signs, chanted and testified about what they thought was unjust about the state. budget. Katie Sipp, executive vice president of SEIU Health Care PA, declared that "budgets are political documents," and that this state budget reflected the political priorities of Harrisburg legislators. She went on to say that the budget serves "corporate greed, but not the peoples’ need."
This was the overarching theme of those who spoke: that the legislature did little, if anything, to make corporations pay their fair share of taxes and instead slashed programs critical to the lives of vulnerable populations in PA. One after another, spokespersons from various groups expressed shock at how Harrisburg politicians failed to levy taxes on smokeless tobacco, cigars, and various corporate loopholes when the state so desperately needs that revenue.
A spokeperson for the Coalition Against Hunger became visibly emotional during her speech, asking rhetorically "How do these politicians go to sleep at night knowing that they are preventing homeless people from having a roof over their heads? How do these politicians go to sleep after cutting funding for domestic violence prevention programs?"
Between the speeches, the crowd repeatedly chanted: "Have the guts, stop the cuts!" Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters PA, began her testimony by pointing out that this budget cuts funding for many departments but increases funding for the Corrections Department, which is responsible for building prisons. She also noted that although the state’s basic education subsidy was increased by $250 million, cuts loom for other educational programs: Head Start, adult and family literacy, and Accountability Block Grants, to name a few.
Towards the end of the rally, the main microphone stopped working momentarily during a speech. When the microphone turned back on, someone from the crowd shouted, "They’re cutting everything – but they can’t cut out our voices!" People within earshot nodded in agreement, as the speaker urged the crowd to call their representatives and voice their grievances.