|PA’s Budget Surplus Can Be a Game-Changer for Kids
For years we’ve been told that the money just isn’t there to meet the needs of schools, child care programs, or children’s health. Routinely, state lawmakers would metaphorically pull out their empty pockets and lament that they wish they could do more, but, shucks, there’s just no money.
Well, guess what? Now there is. A whole $10 billion is sitting in reserves, only $2 billion of which is loosely earmarked federal dollars. We can be sure of this because the Senate Republican Appropriations Chair Pat Browne said so himself: “Total General Fund revenues through April are $7.98 billion, or 24.4%, more than last year at this time.”
Pennsylvania’s budget surplus is:
- a perfect opportunity to cure the injustice of underfunding public schools,
- the best chance we’ve ever had to make great child care and pre-k affordable for families,
- the real life-changing opportunity we need to end childhood lead poisoning, and
- the life-saving moment to extend health care to all children.
By spending just a quarter of the funds in surplus, the lives of children could markedly improve. That’s $1.75 billion for schools, $120 million for child care, $70 million for pre-k, $10 million for home-visiting for new parents, $40 million for lead paint remediation, and $15 million to close the gap in children’s health insurance.
We’ve never met a lawmaker opposed to these essential child-focused investments. Yet, for some reason, now that the funds are in hand, far too many lawmakers are walking away from the common ground of agreeing that we must do more to make the lives of children better.
So now with plenty of state funds to meet the needs of children, lawmakers are looking for excuses for why they can’t do so.
Some lawmakers wistfully wonder if the funds are really there. Others wring their hands feigning worry that years from now the funds won’t be there. Still others are conjuring up artificial caps to limit new spending to 5% or 10% above last year, even though last year’s spending on children is woefully short of what’s was needed then or now.
They can show they actually love our kids by using this windfall of our tax dollars to invest in their future. Finally, state lawmakers can show that for all those years of kissing babies, that they meant it.