Street Corner Soapbox: Budget Priorities
Tax breaks for those buying private planes? Slashes to the education budget? Protestors take to the streets over Governor Corbett's budget, and Jay Stevens takes to his Street Corner Soapbox.
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House passed HB 1100, an amendment to the Tax Reform Code of 1971. The bill adds "the sale at retail or use of aircraft parts, including the maintenance and installation of such parts" and "the sale at retail or use of fixed-wing aircraft, new or used," to the list of exclusions from the Pennsylvania tax code.
A day later, thousands of Pennsylvanians took to the streets in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia to protest Governor Tom Corbett's cuts to the state education budget. Eleven were arrested in Pittsburgh, and 14 in Philadelphia, for blocking traffic.
At first glance, the two events seem to have nothing in common. But that would be wrong.
HB 1100 gives a tax break to those that buy and operate private planes. "Good news for Pennsylvanian families that planned on buying a Learjet or Gulfstream aircraft," quipped the Twitter feed of the Coalition for Labor Engagement and Accountable Revenues (CLEAR). It's the kind of generous break that those with wealth have been enjoying from the state. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, state corporations will enjoy over $2 billion in tax cuts in 2012-2013 -- and that doesn't include the hundreds of millions corporations already save in various tax loopholes. And don't get me started on the weak bill requiring the fracking industry to pay only a nominal fee for drilling the Marcellus shale.
Compare the money big corporations are saving to the cuts savaging the state education -- a billion dollars from the last school year alone, and targeting the aid programs that poorer districts like Erie rely on. The governor is proposing other cuts in this year's budget, too, mostly to social services.
Meanwhile, the governor denies making cuts to the education budget at all. According to the governor, the missing money is the result of lost federal funding -- but that federal funding simply replaced the money the state had already budgeted for Pennsylvania schools. That is, Corbett is pretending the state's temporary reprieve from education spending was the way it always was.
Corbett's hostility to education apparently irks even members of his own party. Earlier this month, the senate in a rare bipartisan effort restored much of Corbett's proposed cuts in their markup of the state budget, including most of the money Corbett wanted to trim from higher education, and setting up a showdown between the governor's mansion and the state assembly.
Here's the thing. Cutting taxes isn't the silver bullet to fixing the economy, or even to drawing business to the state. The best way to fix the economy is to put money in ordinary Pennsylvanians' pockets, like, say, teachers -- not to sack teachers and line the pockets of corporate executives. And the best way to draw business to a region is by offering excellent infrastructure and amenities -- which includes the presence of a happy and educated workforce.
There's no logical reason to slash education spending in favor of generous tax packages for big business.
In fact, the cuts to education are so egregious that some suspect Corbett is actively trying to kill public education. Right now, it's hard to deny those charges.
Jay Stevens can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.