To the People of Pennsylvania:
We have a very tough set of choices to make with this year’s budget. Our commonwealth is in crisis and we stand at a crossroad.
My proposed budget provides a clear path for a promising future for our state. It assumes the bipartisan budget agreement that proved elusive in December is ultimately enacted this year. It provides a spending plan for 2016-17 that builds upon that agreement. It invests in our schools, meets critical human service needs, fully funds our pension and debt obligations, and eliminates the structural budget deficit that has plagued us since the Great Recession of 2008. My proposed budget lays out the path we must follow if we want to pursue financial responsibility and a hopeful future. It proposes that the state take its rightful share of the responsibility for funding our schools; it proposes that this investment include a reasonable share for early childhood education and higher education; and it proposes that we actually fund these investments with real sources of revenue. It includes key government consolidations along with targeted investments that build upon the bipartisan budget agreement. It faces up to reality and does the difficult things we need to do to bring it into balance. It will allow us a foundation to achieve a more hopeful future for Pennsylvania.
There is another path. For far too long our commonwealth has spent in excess of revenues. The gap was always made up with one-time patches and wildly optimistic assumptions. We can choose a path that continues to ignore financial reality and pretends the commonwealth’s budget is in balance when it clearly is not. That path abandons any bipartisan compromise. That path will result in a deficit of more than $500 million by the close of this fiscal year, and would balloon to more than $2 billion by July of 2017. All funds for our state-related universities and any other non-preferred appropriations would be eliminated. Another $1 billion would be cut from education doubling down on the deep cuts of the past. Human service funding for counties, intellectual disabilities and autism, home- and community-based services, and child care would be reduced by $600 million or more. This path will lead us into a dismal future of shuttered schools, higher property taxes, and lower bond ratings that lead to higher borrowing costs for state and local governments. The consequences of such action are grim. These consequences cannot be ignored.
We have a choice. We must choose a path that funds our schools, eliminates our deficit, and puts Pennsylvania back on track. It is time for us to finish the job and restore Pennsylvanians’ shaken faith in their government. It is time to fund our schools. It is time to face financial reality. It is time to give Pennsylvania the bright future it deserves.