Ciresi: Why I voted no on 2019-20 budget bill

Today, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a 2019-20 budget bill before the June 30 deadline, which should help us avoid the distress and service interruptions that hampered previous negotiations.

And while the budget delivers some important victories that I fought for, it doesn’t go nearly far enough to solve the big problems we have with property taxes, education funding and infrastructure. I voted “no” on my first budget, and here’s why:

My constituents sent me to Harrisburg to fight for property tax reform and fair funding for education. This $34 billion budget missed a golden opportunity to do the right thing and seriously address these problems. Even with the increase in basic and special education funding that the budget provides, schools in the 146th District will remain underfunded by about $15 million – with the difference burdening our seniors, families, and homeowners through higher property taxes.

And there are other missed opportunities to do what’s right for Pennsylvanians. The budget includes no increase to the minimum wage, which hasn’t changed in 10 years. It eliminates the General Assistance program, which provides emergency assistance to vulnerable residents. It puts our clean air and water at risk by diverting funds meant for environmental protection.

It fails to act on charter school reform or school construction reimbursement, further burdening our property taxpayers. And, it fails to invest in infrastructure such as downtown revitalization, stormwater management, and transportation projects – including passenger train restoration, while allowing gas drillers to continue to avoid paying their fair share.

For those reasons, I cast a no vote. But at the same time, I do recognize that many proposals that I had requested and fought for did make it into the 2019-20 spending plan and deserve highlighting.

In education, the budget includes:

  • Increases of $25 million for Pre-K Counts and $5 million for Head Start Supplemental Assistance.
  • Additional $5 million for libraries - the first such increase since the drastic cuts of the Great Recession.
  • Increase of $11.1 million in general support for our state-related universities, including an additional $3.1 million for Temple University.

In addition to education, the budget includes public safety funding that I had fought for, including a $2.39 million increase for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to assist local police departments with equipment and training, and a $232,000 – 8.9 percent – increase for the Office of the State Fire Commissioner that will support local fire companies. These increases will support our hard-working first responders and ensure they have the tools they need to keep us safe.

While my first budget vote may be over, my work to ensure that our state prioritizes property tax reform, public education funding, investments in infrastructure and other legislative initiatives to help my constituents continues.