‘Pennsylvania must do better:’ Advocacy community splits on Wolf’s budget plan

It didn’t take long on Tuesday for reaction to start rolling in from the scores of constituencies affected by the Democratic Wolf administration’s proposed $34.1 billion budget plan. Where you stand on the administration’s proposal for the fiscal year that starts on July 1 largely depends on where you sit. So it wasn’t surprising to see support cleave along partisan lines.

Here’s a quick rundown of the commentary so far:

Adam Marles, president and CEO, LeadingAge PA, which advocates for non-profit services for Pennsylvania’s senior citizen population:

“Years of flat or reduced funding are creating a crisis in care for Pennsylvania seniors and our most frail elderly,” Marles said in a statement. “Pennsylvania must do better. The commonwealth continues to increase regulatory burdens on care providers, even those with tremendous records of care, but doesn’t provide a fair level of funding to help meet those demands. This has compounded a staffing crisis as facilities that are forced to do more with less continue to lose qualified and dedicated professionals.”

Marles said he wants the state to pony up a minimum 2.8 percent increase for skilled nursing services, which would match the annual increase in the cost of care. The budget should also include extra money for nursing facilities that take more Medicaid residents, he added.

“Enough is enough,” Marles said. “This is a common-sense request that addresses years of chronic underfunding that threatens the quality of care seniors receive from our not-for-profit members.”

Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and a Wolf ally:

“As an organization that represents educators, we are deeply committed to the success of each and every student,” Askey said in a statement. “In the last few years, Pennsylvania has moved in the right direction, investing in the classroom resources our students need for a world-class education.

“But to have great schools, we need to attract great teachers, and it is time to increase teacher salaries. Over the past 30 years, the teaching profession has gotten much more challenging, the student debt burden has exploded, and we’re facing a significant teacher shortage,” he continued.

“We shouldn’t have experienced teachers who earn less than other professionals with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and we shouldn’t have highly educated, dedicated people who teach our kids strapped with student loan debt and struggle to make ends meet.

“This proposal will have a positive impact on Pennsylvania’s students, particularly in lower income rural and urban communities. We’re eager to work with Gov. Wolf and lawmakers to get this done,” he said.

Rick Bloomingdale and Frank Snyder of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO:

This budget proposal builds on the findings of Governor Wolf’s Middle-Class Task Force and the PASmart program.  Today’s budget address connects the needs of the Commonwealth’s job market to the job-training and ‘earn while you learn’ apprenticeship programs that lift workers out of low-wage jobs,” Bloomingdale, the AFL-CIO’s president, said.

Wolf’s budget “tackles the issues and challenges facing Pennsylvania today, while preparing our Commonwealth for the jobs and industries of tomorrow. The governor’s budget proposal is a responsible, commonsense approach to schools that teach, jobs that pay, and government that works,” Snyder, its secretary-treasurer, said.

B.J. Small, of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation:

“This new budget season is a watershed moment if the Commonwealth is to provide the cleanest and healthiest water for Pennsylvanians,” Small said. ” The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) biennial State of the Bay report makes it clear that the Commonwealth has a lot of work to do if it is to get back on track toward meeting its commitment to clean water.

 “Success in reducing the amount of pollution flowing into our rivers and streams will take greater, sustainable investments by the legislature in the right places, on the right practices, and on the right partnerships,” he said.

Stephanie Catarino-Wissman, The American Petroleum Institute-PA:

“Over the past decade, Pennsylvania has led the way for the nation in natural gas production. Due to our energy leadership, the world has seen a monumental shift in the balance of energy power. This leadership is delivering for communities across the Commonwealth – cutting family budget expenses and bringing manufacturing jobs back,” Wissman said. “Because it is being requested for the fifth time in five years, questions continue to be asked about good reasons for the continued targeting of Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry through a counterproductive and anti-consumer severance tax. In the end, if enacted, this additional tax will discourage investments and risk the loss of revenues that have helped bolster communities and infrastructure in all 67 counties. This initiative doesn’t restore Pennsylvania; it jeopardizes Pennsylvania’s economic strength in a world economy.”

Gordon Denlinger, state director of the Pennsylvania office of the National Federation of Independent Businesses:

“When speaking about improving the workforce, the governor mentioned getting mothers working, daycare, teacher salaries, kindergarten, and other long-term laudable goals, but small businesses need more workers today to fill immediate vacancies. There wasn’t much detail on how he might help solve this problem quickly,” Denlinger said.

“Before spending another ten million dollars on workforce development, current programs that are redundant or unsuccessful should be eliminated. Gov. Wolf’s plan to cut the red tape and run the program under one central website with input from the business community is a positive approach.

“NFIB views the governor’s comments about reforms to the criminal justice system and inmate re-entry programs as a way to help fill job openings at certain businesses, and we applaud his efforts.

“We are pleased the governor made a promise of no new taxes, and we look forward to understanding how he will fund the initiatives he put forth today. It’s ironic that the governor wants to help businesses find qualified workers, but at the same time he is supporting a $15 minimum wage and pushing for a rule to expand overtime.”

Sheila Christopher, executive director of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania:

Wolf’s budget holds the line on funding for the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP), one of Pennsylvania’s most critical anti-hunger programs, the agency said in a statement.

The state Department of Agriculture’s budget includes $19.6 million for SFPP, the same level as last year. That includes $1 million for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS), which redirects millions of pounds of Pennsylvania-grown fruits and vegetables to nutritious family meals, the advocacy group said.

“There isn’t a single community or legislative district in Pennsylvania that isn’t affected by hunger and food insecurity, which is why Pennsylvania needs a statewide effort to address these issues,” Christopher said.  “We’re grateful to the governor for his continued support and look forward to working with both the administration and entire General Assembly to ensure hungry families in Pennsylvania have access to the resources they need.

“The fact is that a relatively minor increase in investments in these programs will make a bold statement that emphasizes government’s recognition of the negative impact of food insecurity and its commitment to easing the harm of hunger,” Christopher said.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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