Pennsylvania was established as a commonwealth because its founders saw this state, this government, as serving the common good. We must use our common wealth for the maximum common good, and by that measure, we failed. Specifically, the new budget fails in three ways: infrastructure, people, and process.
The past several years have been difficult for Pennsylvania. It is our duty to lessen the difficulty while taking advantage of evident economic growth. After all, state revenues have been beating expectations.
Despite this, we continue to grossly neglect the upkeep of our infrastructure. Our highways, bridges, roads, railroads, and water systems are rapidly deteriorating. These systems must be brought into the 21st century to attract new industries and residents.
As former Gov. Ed Rendell writes in his new book, "The nation's infrastructure is literally beginning to fall apart, and our leaders understand this but are unwilling to invest in fixing it. They're afraid it's too hard, too complicated. They don't want to risk spending the money that's necessary because they're afraid of losing the next election."
The legislature could have allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild Pennsylvania's infrastructure this year, but we failed to do so.
We also neglected the state's people. We are constitutionally required to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education. And education is the key to our economic future; if we don't have a well-educated workforce, investment will pass us by. Yet the new budget does nothing to reverse last year's nearly $1 billion in cuts to education. Instead, it embraces a series of talking points masquerading as reform.
In addition, this budget cuts county-run social services by $84 million and eliminates general assistance for Pennsylvania's poorest. This will force county executives to choose among the mentally ill, those with addictions, the homeless, needy children, and the disabled.
This supposedly balanced budget won't mean no new taxes. It simply means shifting more of the tax burden to counties, school districts, and property owners.
Finally, the budget process was puzzling to anyone new to it, and I hope I never lose that sense of newness. Much of the legislation before us was offered by the majority Republicans in the last hours of the last day of the session, with little opportunity to read it — and no opportunity for Democrats to comment or contribute.
For example, we received the 114-page bill that created a multibillion-dollar tax credit for Shell at 8:40 p.m. on Saturday, June 30. It passed two hours later, at 10:41 p.m.
No budget is perfect. But this budget is inadequate and inequitable. Maybe next year we will support the modest economic growth Pennsylvania is realizing, invest in our people and communities, and fix our figures as well as our focus.
Madeleine Dean is a Democratic state representative from Montgomery County.