AS I SEE IT: A budget that speaks to our future
The main message in the state budget I have presented is that Pennsylvania has turned a corner in its journey to prosperity and is now ready to hit full economic stride.
After adding back nearly every job lost in the Great Recession and experiencing an expansion of the labor force to more than 6 million, we are sensing a new optimism in the private sector, which has added more than 150,000 jobs.
State government is working smarter and with a close eye to the balance sheet, with millions saved by finding new ways to deliver traditional services and by cutting the fat.
Manufacturing, energy and other sectors are continuing to grow and that growth is reflected in revenues that now allow us to expand our investments in education and human services from child care to job training.
For the fourth straight year, Pennsylvania will invest more of its money into basic education than the preceding year — a nearly $400 million increase for the coming fiscal year.
We are getting closer to replacing the one-time federal stimulus funds that had been recklessly poured into the yearly expenditure category, while zeroing in on the educational programs that will give us the biggest return on a state dollar.
For example, we are proposing $240 million for a block grant program called Ready to Learn. It would provide for curriculum development and teacher training as well as student-focused programs in the lower grades, where a good start often sets the course for lifelong achievement.
We are adding another $20 million for special education services, and have designated $1 million for a school-to-school mentoring program. That mentoring program will enable high achieving schools to share some of the secrets of their success with schools that are still working to meet the highest standards.
We are continuing to develop our Healthy Pennsylvania program — a holistic approach to providing health insurance to our needy, while making certain their communities have doctors to deliver those services and programs. Healthy Pennsylvania allows our citizens access to quality, affordable health care coverage without the one-size-fits-all federal solution of Medicaid. Pennsylvanians would rather decide what coverage meets their needs than have the federal government dictate to them.
And we are spending tens of millions more this year on services to older Pennsylvanians and persons with physical and intellectual challenges, reducing waiting lists for services, expanding community based care, and providing new dollars for domestic violence and rape crisis services. Child care services are expanded and early learning grants will help special needs children and their families.
Targeting dollars to programs that we know will work is an investment in our citizens, our young people and the values of a commonwealth that leaves nobody behind.
The past three years have presented enormous challenges, with a $4.2 billion deficit that we were determined to overcome without imposing tax increases that would have cost the average two-income family more than $900 in additional payments every year.
We accomplished that goal and, in the process, turned the state around in ways that have created new jobs, expanded opportunities, all by understanding the difference between spending and investment.
When it comes to our citizens, we choose to invest in them.
Tom Corbett is governor of Pennsylvania