But I have my doubts. Two months ago, I was sworn in as a new member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. This was the first budget that I had the privilege to participate in, so I want to offer my perspective — as I said on the House floor — as someone new and inexperienced, yet middle-aged and from the real world.
Yes, we passed a budget on time — that is, before the clock struck 12. But we failed to pass a budget that struck the right balance.
Pennsylvania was first established and remains a "commonwealth" because the founders explicitly said that this state, this government, was established for the common good of all its citizens.
Thus, we must use our common wealth for the maximum common good, and by that measure we failed. The budget fails to strike the right balance in three significant ways: a failure to invest in infrastructure; a failure to invest in our human structure; and a failure of process.
On infrastructure: As former Gov. Ed Rendell writes in his new book, A Nation of Wusses, "The nation's infrastructure is literally beginning to fall apart, and our leaders understand this but are unwilling to invest in fixing it. They don't want to risk spending the money that's necessary because they're afraid of losing the next election."
Our highways, bridges, secondary roads, railroads and water systems are rapidly deteriorating. These systems are critical to connecting diverse regions of our state so that communities and businesses can thrive and prosper. Our infrastructure must be brought into the 21st century to attract new industries and new residents.
Without increasing taxes, we had the ability to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars toward rebuilding Pennsylvania's infrastructure, and we failed to do so.
On human structure: Not only have we neglected our physical infrastructure, but we have also neglected our human infrastructure — our people. In fact, the budget we passed codifies neglect of people as it prioritizes privilege.
We are constitutionally mandated to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education. Education is the key to Pennsylvania's economic future; without a diverse, talented and well-educated labor supply, business investment will just pass us by. Yet the new budget did nothing to reverse last year's nearly $1 billion cuts to education. Instead, this budget continues to embrace talking points and sound bites masquerading as education reform.
And don't be fooled that this so-called balanced budget means no new taxes. It simply means a shifting of the tax burden to counties and local school districts, as they figure out whether to cut more teachers or programs or raise local taxes, and to property owners.
In addition, this budget cuts county-run social services by $84 million and eliminates entirely general-assistance benefits for Pennsylvania's most poor. This will have the effect of county executives' having to choose between treating the mentally ill, or treating those with addictions, or providing homeless assistance, or offering child-welfare grants, or helping those with disabilities. Impossible choices that will call for the wisdom of Solomon.
On process: Finally, the budget process is puzzling to anyone new like me, and I admit I hope I never lose that newness.
Much of the legislation before us last week was offered by the majority party last day, last minute, with little opportunity for anyone to read — and no opportunity for minority members to comment or to contribute to crafting better legislation.
By way of example, we in the House received House Bill 761 — the 114-page bill that created the multibillion-dollar tax credit for Royal Dutch Shell, at 8:40 p.m. June 30, with no chance to amend — though I did try. That bill passed two hours later – at 10:41 p.m.
IN THE END, I voted "no" on the budget.
What I learned is that no budget is perfect, but this budget is inadequate and inequitable.
Maybe next year we will invest more in our people and our communities. Maybe next year we will fix our figures and our focus.
We can still dream like children on the night before Christmas.
Democrat Madeleine Dean, based in Jenkintown, represents the 153rd Legislative District.