By Joseph Batory
(Published in the Center City Concerned Citizens REVIEW May 2016)
Pennsylvania government is broken.
1. Throughout this current fiscal year, Pennsylvania legislative productivity was so low that it took nine months to pass what is a structurally unbalanced budget. During the budget stalemate, State lawmakers received money paid as per diems of up of $159 daily for food and lodging without receipts required. This was in addition to their salaries ($85,338.66 per annum). For nine months Pennsylvania did not fund schools and many other State services, but they funded themselves. Harrisburg’s WHTM-TV found that the 203-member House paid out more than $2.1 million just in per diems and the 50-member Senate received more than $247,000.
One glaring reason for the State’s structural deficit is that over the years Pennsylvania has consistently lost revenue thanks to tax breaks and loopholes given to corporations.
In February, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC) noted that if taxes on corporations provided the same share of state revenue today as they did in 2002, the total revenue would be $2.39 billion higher than projected this year.
So the current budget deficit is not the result of increased state spending, but rather, a decrease in revenue going into the general fund.
2. The latest Franklin and Marshall poll (January, 2016) indicates that citizens havegiven Pennsylvania’s government the lowest confidence ratings in more than 20 years. Not surprisingly, this latest poll indicates that two-thirds of Pennsylvania citizens (67 percent) believe things in State government are on the wrong track. Pennsylvania faces a severe structural deficit (estimated at more than two billion dollars for the next fiscal year). It threatens to bring additional credit downgrades and further cuts to crucial State programs that educate our children, aid the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, and protect the environment. Pennsylvania’s elected officials are not governing.
3. Pennsylvania currently pays one of the lowest percentage shares of State funding (about 35%) for public schools when compared to other States nationally. Added to this, Pennsylvania now has the dubious distinction of having created the largest spending gaps between its rich and poor school districts. This is a national disgrace and a betrayal of the State’s children.
4. In 2011, the School Reform Commission which oversees the School District of Philadelphia fired one of its central level administrators. His name was Francis X. Dougherty and he had gone public about a “no bid” $7.5 million contract which was pushed through by then superintendent of schools Arlene Ackerman. When Dougherty revealed that this contract did not follow the required proper bidding procedures, he was terminated for essentially “not keeping his mouth shut.”
Not surprisingly, a federal jury recently found that Dougherty had been wrongfully dismissed on the basis he had been denied the right to free speech. As a result of this debacle, the School Reform Commission recently agreed to pay $725,000.00 to Dougherty. Worse yet, the School Reform Commission has paid nearly $1 million to defend itself in the Dougherty case.
When Ackerman finally was forced out by the School Reform Commission after only three years as Philadelphia’s superintendent of schools, she was awarded an excessive separation pay of $900,000.00. Ackerman claimed that she had only cared about the students but this seems ridiculous just in the context of the “no-bid” fiasco and her separation package. The key issue here is how all of this could have happened with the State-imposed School Reform Commission in charge of the school district. With school buildings in decay, cutbacks occurring to school nurses and guidance counselors, reductions of art and music programs, and larger class sizes proliferating, many millions of dollars just in the instances cited above went uselessly out the window instead of into Philadelphia’s schools.
Joseph Batory has been published extensively in the areas of politics and education.