Governor Corbett has taken a lot of heat for cutting nearly a billion dollars from education during his first year in office, money he has not yet replenished. Recently, the Governor explained that this was necessary due to the $4 billion deficit he inherited from the Rendell Administration. In fact, it’s a claim he’s made since first taking office: due to expiring stimulus money and irresponsible spending, he was forced to make cuts due to the giant deficit he was handed. However, numbers revealed by the state government tell a different story. According to the Governor’s Budget Office, he actually entered office with a billion dollar surplus in the General Fund. There are many reasons why the Corbett Administration may have cut education funding, but balancing out a budget deficit was not one of them.
The $4 billion deficit claim is one the Governor has made often, with the AP reporting in March 2011 that “Corbett lashed out at what he called a credit-card culture in state government that left him with no choice but to cut his way out of a projected $4 billion deficit…He attacked his predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, for using temporary federal recession aid to increase education spending.” He’s now released a new ad that claims, “When I ran for governor, I promised you I was going to change Harrisburg, and boy, have we. Harrisburg’s job-crushing $4.2 billion deficit is now gone.” It is true that it is gone; it was never there in the first place. Even new SRC appointee Farah Jimenez is repeating the company line, telling Newsworks, “If you look back, the funding crisis is a more recent occurrence, it happened after the economic stimulus funding from the federal government was no longer available to us. Prior to that, the level of monies that we had available to educate our kids is pretty much similar to what we have now.” Except, of course, for everything Governor Corbett cut out.
So let’s look at the real numbers. According to the Governor’s Executive Budget 2013-2014, the “Actual Beginning Balance” (their words) for 2011-12 was $1.1 billion carried over from Governor Rendell’s last year in office. Going back to his 2012-2013 budget, the General Fund listed the same $1.1 billion surplus as Harrisburg’s “Available Beginning Balance.” In fact, by the time Governor Corbett took office, revenues had returned to pre-recession levels. They are currently about a billion dollars above where they were then. So all those education cuts are going to be restored, right? Unlikely. Because the truth of the matter is that the Governor cut nearly a billion dollars from education for other reasons. He needed to cover a $450 million business tax cut while still being able to tout a year end surplus of more than $600 million, so something had to go. Despite what he and his appointees claim, there was no $4 billion deficit he had to deal with. His own budget says as much, over and over again. Budget crunches often force executives and legislators to make tough decisions. But not this time.