Education

Budget numbers are always difficult to understand, not least because those with different perspectives can present the numbers in sharply different, but honest ways. In the context of the state’s still-unfinished 2105-16 budget, this brief presents a series of careful “apples-to-apples” comparisons of the three budgets in play in Harrisburg last year: Governor Wolf’s budget proposal, the Republican budget and the bi-partisan budget agreed to by Governor Wolf and the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties in the General Assembly.

In a democracy, public policy is ideally made after extensive public deliberation and debate. Deals made in private and announced at the last minute make it impossible for citizens to understand and evaluate the actions of their legislators or for advocates to mobilize citizen opinion on the critical issues of the day. Unfortunately, the last few days have given us two striking examples of the failure to live up to this fundamental democratic norm.

As of December 10, 2015, the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Budget is still not done. Two different budgets are now before the General Assembly. In this brief, we provide an overview of the differences between the two budgets, looking first at critical differences in spending for education and human services, then at the impact of those differences, and finally at some subtleties in how the two budgets organize  and present certain spending choices they have in common and how this affects the bottom line budget numbers

Over the past few years, many other states, similar to Pennsylvania in 2011 and again today, have faced critical choices about whether to raise state revenues, hold firm to “no new taxes” or even cut taxes further. We examine the experience of four other states as well as Pennsylvania. Two of the other states – California and Minnesota – raised taxes to improve their fiscal health and to reinvest in education. The other two states – Kansas and Wisconsin – followed the same path as Pennsylvania under Gov. Corbett, cutting taxes in varying degrees and cutting education spending.

One critical value that should guide tax policy in our view is “revenue adequacy” – having enough revenue to invest in essential public goods, starting with education, and in services critical to quality of life for middle‐ and low‐income families.

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