WILKES-BARRE — Following the release of the House Republicans’ plan to fill a $2.2 billion budget gap with fund transfers, state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski said Friday that taking millions of dollars from agriculture and other programs is not the solution.
Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre and Democratic chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan budget earlier this summer with increased funding for education, fighting the heroin epidemic and programs that will help Pennsylvania’s economy grow and prosper. He said it has been over a month since the Senate passed a revenue package and sent it to the House, yet the House has not been called back into session to take up that plan.
“This in my mind is inexcusable,” Pashinski said. “Now, several days before we’re scheduled to return to session, House Republicans have unveiled another revenue package that creates potential costly legal challenges by taking money from specific designated programs and transferring that into the general fund to close the budget deficit. This idea would unequivocally harm Pennsylvanians from all walks of life.”
Specifically, Pashinski said the House Republicans’ plan would take millions from programs that are instrumental in supporting Pennsylvania’s number one industry — agriculture. He said robbing the nation’s most successful Farmland Preservation program, which allows farmland to be permanently preserved for agriculture production, will cause the state to break its contract with counties and farmers who have already spent taxpayer dollars preparing and complying with the various application stages.
Pashinski said the GOP proposal would also cripple programs like the highly effective Resource Enhancement and Protection program, known as REAP. He said REAP is instrumental in helping farmers implement best management strategies on their farms, especially when it comes to nutrient and sediment runoff. The main purpose of this program is to protect Pennsylvania’s most valuable sources of drinking water, Pashinski said, adding that clean water also produces millions in tourism dollars.
Some of Pennsylvania’s premier agriculture-related shows, the All-American Dairy Show and the Keystone International Livestock Exposition, would receive no funding, Pashinski said. Agriculture-related research, such as investigating plant and animal diseases, controlling crop pests and learning how to better grow crops to reduce the cost of our food would receive no investment. Pashinski said the Conservation District Fund would be raided for over $3 million at a time when the state is asking conservation districts to do more to improve water quality and protect clean water sources.
“I fully respect that my fellow representatives are trying to come up with answers to our budget deficit, but robbing Peter to pay Paul is not the way to do it,” Pashinski said. “We’ve done that for seven years and we’re still in debt over $2 billion. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Many of these funds are already earmarked for their intended use or constitute an emergency fund. Depleting them will undoubtedly put us in a more precarious financial position next year.”
Pashinski said “these one-year fixes and short-term gimmicks” are an unstable way to balance a budget, as seen from the several credit downgrades Pennsylvania received in recent years. Since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, Pashinski said not only have these credit downgrades cost taxpayers millions in interest, but the state’s emergency fund of nearly $1 billion in 2011 has dwindled to the point that he said the state cannot operate in any kind of emergency situation for one day.
“That is fiscal mismanagement,” said Pashinski. “Furthermore, with hurricanes Harvey and Irma showing the need for emergency funding, it’s unconscionable that we would look to empty these funds from historically productive and important programs. Let alone the fact that even if this plan were legally and morally responsible, which I do not believe it is, it is most definitely not fiscally responsible.”
The robbing of funds doesn’t just hit agriculture, Pashinski said, they hit the state’s 911 fund and the Volunteer Companies Loan Fund, which was developed to help volunteer fire and EMS companies.
“Every one of these funds and over two dozen more have legitimate purposes and improve quality of life, all of which makes Pennsylvania a more attractive place to live and raise your family,” Pashinski said. “I sincerely hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will see that this plan is shortsighted and will not work for the people of Pennsylvania.”
Casey, Toomey back bill to help
children of fallen first responders
Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, announced this week the Senate passage of their bipartisan legislation — the Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act (S.597) — which would give the children of fallen law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS workers the maximum Pell Grant authorized by federal law.
“First responders put their lives on the line every day without hesitation,” Casey said in a news release. “Our nation must do all it can to help their families when tragedy strikes.”
Casey said the legislation is a commonsense step that Congress can take to help ease the burden these children confront as they enter college. He said the Senate has taken a step forward in honoring these heroes by passing the legislation and it is now time for the House to do the same.
Toomey said police officers, firefighters, and other first responders embody what it means to be a public servant.
“Day in and day out they risk their lives to serve and protect us,” Toomey said. “When one of these heroes pays the ultimate sacrifice, we owe it to their families to lend a helping hand.”
Here are highlights of the bill:
• It automatically provides to qualifying students who are the children of fallen officers, firefighters, EMS workers, and fire police the maximum Pell Grant authorized by federal law.
• Pell Grants are distributed based on a student’s financial need using a formula that determines how much each student/family is able to pay toward that student’s education, known as their Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
• If the child of a fallen first responder qualifies for Pell Grant aid, this bill would allow that student to be treated as if his/her EFC was zero, making the student eligible for the maximum Pell Grant award authorized by law, currently $5,730 per year for a full-time student.
• To qualify for a Pell Grant, students must demonstrate significant financial need. Nearly 75 percent of Pell recipients have a family income of $30,000 or less.
• A similar benefit is provided for children of parents in the Armed Forces who were killed in the line of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.