What You’re Getting Instead of a Fracking Tax

Instead of taxing fracking like every other state, Tom Corbett thinks it’s a better idea to do this stuff:

With a 6-2 vote before a sparse crowd, the Bethlehem Area School Board gave its final blessing Monday to eliminate 175 jobs, slash about 40 high school electives, pare down preschool offerings and end full-day kindergarten next school year…

Of the 175 jobs being cut, 96 are teachers.

Both Liberty and Freedom high schools would lose about 20 electives each. The electives would be cut if they do not have a minimum of 20 students enrolled. At Freedom, some of those lost electives include philosophy and literature, Poetry II and Advanced Placement environmental science. Liberty’s lost electives also include similarly titled English and science courses.

Other cost-cutting measures include eliminating a dozen full-day kindergarten classes, slashing in half the SPARK preschool, shuttering most family centers, ending tutoring, increasing student-to-guidance counselor ratios, canceling elementary and middle school intramural sports, and not buying new buses.

Clearly it’s more “Un-American” to tax extractive industries than to end full-day Kindergarten and pre-school programs.

People should also be aware that PA’s budget surplus may be as much as $300 million, making these cuts largely unnecessary. The majority Republicans are making a political choice to cut education. Nothing is forcing them to do it this way.

Education Cuts vs. Not Taxing Horse Shoes

From Sharon Ward, here are some tax expenditures that Tom Corbett thinks have a stronger claim to taxpayer dollars than education:

Pennsylvania’s sales tax, riddled with exemptions that make little sense, is another candidate for reform. Do we really need to exempt helicopters or horse-shoeing from the sales tax?

Then there are the countless inconsistencies. At a concession stand, popcorn and soda are taxed, but candy and gum are exempt. Deodorant and antiperspirants are taxed; toothpaste is not. Tax is collected on a book bought at Barnes and Noble, but not one sold on Amazon.com.

Ed Rendell wanted to clean out these loopholes and lower the sales tax rate to 4%. That would have been a great deal for every business that sells products at the 6% tax rate, which is to say the vast majority of businesses. There’s a 2% higher tax on your product than there needs to be just so that Big Malt Liquor and Big Horseshoe can sell their products tax-free.

In the previous post, a commenter tried to tell me about deadweight loss from taxes – more sales might happen at a lower cost, but don’t happen at a higher cost because taxes raise the price. This is a actually a great example of that. Everybody else would have more sales if Big Helicopter was paying its fair share.

That is why it was very surprising indeed when the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce came out for higher sales taxes when this was being debated last year. Obviously the vast majority of their members would have seen increased profits from a lower sales tax.

Tom Corbett Doesn’t Have to Cut Education to Balance the Budget

Here’s a good chart from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center showing that Tom Corbett doesn’t have to make any cuts if he doesn’t want to:

Usually when partisans of either side talk about cutting “waste, fraud and abuse” to balance the budget, it’s not really the case that you can erase a deficit only by cutting unnecessary stuff. But in the case of Pennsylvania’s budget, it really is true!

Now that the good ship Corbett is taking on water, maybe the Governor will be a little more open to persuasion from his Republican colleagues that his education cuts should be scaled back and replaced with some cuts to tax code spending and handouts.

Corbett doesn’t care about his reelection because he’s at “a beautiful stage in [his] life,” but Republican legislators who have to run in 2012 have gotta be worried about the political fallout.

Minority Democrats are going to be in an excellent position to hang these education cuts and corporate handouts around their necks in 2012. Democrats don’t have a majority in any chamber in Harrisburg, and if they hold together voting No on all these cuts Mitch McConnell-style, they can rightfully put all the blame for the pain in their districts on the Republicans.

Where the Waste Is, Cont’d.

Joe Mandak at the AP says Jack Wagner is looking for the actual waste in the PA budget:

The key numbers are these: Pennsylvania’s inmate population grew more than six-fold from about 8,200 in 1980 to about 51,500 last year while spending per inmate over the same period has increased from roughly $11,400 to more than $32,000.

Wagner is targeting roughly 19,000 inmates, or 39 percent, who are imprisoned for nonviolent offenses. He’d like to see that number halved through overhauled sentencing practices and other changes in a bill [Sen. Stewart] Greenleaf currently has before the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs.

A former Montgomery County prosecutor, Greenleaf said other states cited in Wagner’s report like California, Michigan, New York, Maryland and Texas have reduced inmate populations and cut costs by measures including renovating existing prisons instead of building new ones, scaling back mandatory sentences , especially for drug offenses , and developing prison alternatives for nonviolent offenders. Greenleaf’s legislation would reduce the time some nonviolent offenders spend in the state system, encourage nonprofits and faith-based rehabilitation programs, and reform parole rules so people are not imprisoned for lesser violations.

Spokeswoman Susan Bensinger said the Department of Corrections is already “working very diligently on a lot of things he is proposing.” The state is expanding an intermediate punishment program and a program that gives inmates who are at low risk for recidivism reduced sentences for participating in treatment and behavioral programs.

Wagner believes Greenleaf’s proposals could save $50 million this fiscal year, and $100 million each of the next three years, and hundreds of millions more if new prisons don’t have to be built.

It’s great to see that there is bipartisan support for this. The majority Republicans really ought to look at the plan Mitch Daniels is implementing in Indiana.

Who to Blame for Education Cuts

If you want to get into the minutiae of the fights over school budget cuts in Easton and Allentown, I recommend adding Noel Jones’ Neighbors of Easton and Rich Wilkins’ new blog Broad and Pennsylvania to your daily reading. I’d like to cover this stuff, but there’s just not enough hours in the day.

For the sake of accountability, the thing you need to keep in mind on school budget cuts is that the vast bulk of the blame lies with conservatives in the US Congress. They are pretending there’s a fiscal crisis, but there just isn’t. They can, and should, bail out state and local governments by pulling their temporary deficits onto the federal balance sheet.

Next you need to blame Tom Corbett for cutting education instead of corporate handouts and tax loopholes that would more than cover the difference.

And finally you need to blame the local officials and teabaggers who would rather ruin kids’ lifetime earnings potential than pay an extra $6 a month in taxes.

Student Organizing

It’s been awesome to see college students not taking Tom Corbett’s education cuts lying down. There have been a few recent actions that made me hopeful that young people are starting to wake up to the reality that their economic interests diverge sharply from those of the tea people. To put it bluntly, if the tea people win and the economy suffers a large contraction, young people lose. Would that the one good thing about the 2010 Republican wave will be that it draws more young adults into political activism.

What impact are the school budget cuts going to have on the electorate this November? Who will be more motivated to turn out?

The Republican advantage is the super-voters, who skew older and would seem most likely to vote for whoever is promising not to increase property taxes.

But on the other hand, Republicans at the national and state level have managed to seriously piss off all the core Democratic constituences – people of color, labor, women, and students. Republicans picked a fight with every one of these groups in their first few months in power, and it’s no surprise that they are not happy about it.

MuniCon is the Answer to Tom Corbett’s Political Woes

I have a column up at Patch on why Tom Corbett needs to follow Chris Christie’s lead in promoting municipal consolidation. Here’s a good example of my point:

The district cited by Baker, tiny Susquehanna Community School District, was recognized for posting the greatest gains of any district in reading and math test scores from 2002 to 2009.

But the superintendent, Bronson Stone, warned that small rural districts like his will be forced to merge or shut down in the coming years if the situation doesn’t improve. For starters, Corbett’s proposed cuts, which contributed to the district’s $1.4 million deficit following this year’s budget of almost $13.9 million , should be distributed more equitably, he said.

With energy, pension and health care costs rising and state-mandated limits on local tax increases, Stone said, “you could see a lot of small districts finding it very difficult to balance a budget as the years go by.”

This is the obvious impact of cuts this severe. Chris Christie understands that this is going to wipe out smaller governments and is openly encouraging them to consolidate in response. NJ has a relatively easy process for voters to kickstart a campaign that could take as little as 18 months.

By contrast, Tom Corbett has provided no guidance at all to local governments and school districts, and it is quite predictably a political disaster. The papers are chock full of terrible news out of school districts and Tom Corbett’s surrogates are out there saying this kind of stuff?