More than a thousand union members from groups including the PSEA, SEIU and AFSME gathered on the Capitol steps to protest Governor Corbett’s $27.3 billion budget today, with much of the anger focused on the more than $1 billion the Republican wants to cut from education spending.
About half of that money, as Corbett likes to point out during public appearances, comes from eliminated federal stimulus dollars.
At the beginning of the rally, AFSME Council 13 Executive Director Dave Fillman warned against the impact of Corbett’s proposed spending reductions. “We don’t want our kids on over-crowded classrooms. We don’t want health care cuts for our seniors. We don’t want huge increases in tuition. And we don’t want to see our property taxes skyrocket,” he said, as the crowd cheered. “A budget with devastating cuts for working families is wrong. A budget without a drilling tax on Marcellus Shale is wrong. A budget that allows tax loopholes for big corporations is wrong.”
Two themes emerged from the protestors I talked to. They’re 1) worried education cuts will lead to local property tax hikes and 2) think lawmakers should enact a natural gas drilling tax and send the proceeds to Pennsylvania’s general fund. Corbett has vowed to veto any tax increase, and the only drilling levy with a politically realistic chance of passing this year is Senator Joe Scarnati’s impact fee, which would send revenue to local governments and environmental efforts.
The union rally came a day after the release of April’s tax revenue figures, which were nine percent better than expectations. The extra income increased the year’s surplus to more than $500 million – way more than the $78 million projected by the Corbett Administration in March. Corbett has repeatedly vowed not to spend a cent more than $27.3 billion. If the surplus stays this large in June, there will be significant pressure from lawmakers to use the extra money to lessen basic and higher education cuts.