Harrisburg Happenings: Ryan Bizzarro
State Representative Ryan Bizzarro returns with an update from the Capitol.
The most common question asked of me while back in the district is, "What's happening in Harrisburg?" This month, it's all about the budget. There are several areas of Gov. Tom Corbett's spending plan that are receiving a great deal of attention in Harrisburg: the Pennsylvania lottery, Medicaid, transportation deficiencies, education funding, and the privatization of liquor stores. Here's a quick overview of each issue and how it could affect the Commonwealth and our community.
After a private decision by the Corbett administration to sell the Pennsylvania Lottery to a British firm was made public, the lack of transparency spurred uproar among legislators and citizen alike. The lottery generates $1 billion annually in support of services such as property tax rebates and lower-cost medicines for older Pennsylvanians. As a member of both the House Gaming Oversight and Aging and Older Adult Services committees, I agree with Attorney General Kathleen Kane's assessment that the state legislature should be the organization to make substantial changes to the lottery.
The lottery sale isn't the only backlash expected to be experienced by Pennsylvania seniors, either. Gov. Corbett scrapped the Medicaid expansion plan, turning down the opportunity for more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians to qualify for health care and $40 billion in federal funds, which would reduce the hospitals' costs of uncompensated care. With more than 20 states agreeing to the Medicaid expansion, I think – with all due respect to the governor – that it's time for him to reconsider his stance on the expansion before more Pennsylvanians are left behind.
Another issue I'm often asked about is transportation. Pennsylvania has the most structurally deficient bridges and the most miles of roads in "poor" condition in the entire country, but Gov. Corbett proposed only half of what is needed to address issues. Every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure creates or saves roughly 30,000 jobs, and better roads mean better ways for goods to be imported and exported from our area, which generates economic growth and opportunity.
But the potential for negative impacts on economic development doesn't stop with transportation. Two years ago, Gov. Corbett cut almost $1 billion in basic education funding. This year's $90 million increase is not enough to fix the damage. The school districts I represent – Fairview, Fort LeBeouf, General McLane, and Millcreek Township – would see an average increase of 1.5 percent, which is unsustainable because it's contingent upon successfully privatizing the liquor stores.
We cannot peg the privatization of the state liquor system against our education system. Instead, we should explore a way to modernize the current system so that "mom and pop" stores and neighborhood beer distributors can continue to grow and thrive.
These issues only scratch the surface on what needs to be done to serve Pennsylvanians during this next fiscal year and beyond. If you have questions or concerns about the budget, please don't hesitate to reach out; we're here for you. Stop by the district office located in the Peninsula Plaza – 1101 Peninsula Drive, Suite 209 – in Millcreek Township or call us at 835.2880.