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Good Morning!

With the legislature set to fully turn its attention to finalizing the 2011-2012 state budget, I want to take the opportunity to share a few thoughts about what is on the table.

Many people, of course, have concerns about the type and size of cuts that the governor has proposed, as well as about the changes to his plan, proposed in a budget bill recently passed by the House of Representatives. Given the task of avoiding tax increases in this economy, painful belt-tightening is unavoidable, but I believe that a number of the cuts now on the table in either the governor’s or the House plans threaten serious harm that must be avoided.

For example, the $1.1 billion reduction that the governor has proposed for public schools and the 50 percent cut he has proposed for Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln Universities, and for the state school system that includes Kutztown University, could shut tens of thousands of deserving students - who already are priced out of private universities and colleges - out of publicly supported schools by raising the costs of tuition and increasing school loan debt.

A highly educated workforce and real access to a good education will be critical for Pennsylvania to compete in the increasingly global market. Public support for our universities attracts billions of federal and private research dollars that translate into new technologies and new jobs. I don’t believe that short-circuiting our economic future and short-changing students is sound thinking or wise policy.

The House budget plan recognizes this concern as well, and proposes to restore some higher education funding by relying on eliminating a half billion dollars of “waste” in Department of Public Welfare programs. But even the Corbett administration admits that is doubtful. Worse, relying on a focus like this could mean even deeper damage to important programs like the Human Services Development Fund (HSDF) than the governor’s proposal would cause.

The governor’s plan puts HSDF, a $23.5 million block grant that counties use to make sure services fit local needs, fully on the chopping block. I know directly from eight years as county commissioner the huge impact that HSDF has, through giving counties the opportunity to find innovative ways to address local needs with a small investment by the state. If state funding for services like this end, the need will not go away. Instead, services could actually end up costing more to provide, and the cut would shift the burden onto local tax bases that cannot afford it.

Senator Judy Schwank speaks out on the need to maintain budget funding
for agricultural extension services on May 24. Click here to view floor remarks.

I also am deeply opposed to proposed cuts to the Penn State Agricultural Research and Agricultural Extensions budget lines. As a former director of the Berks County Cooperative Extension Program, I know personally how this funding affects all Pennsylvanians. Its loss could cause irrevocable harm to Pennsylvania’s number one industry, but farmers would not be the only ones impacted. Besides production agriculture, this funding also pays for water quality research and programs, food safety research, health and nutrition programs, 4-H youth programs, pest management research and programs, and forestry and natural resource research and programs.

Of course, many other important concerns exist – especially, the failure to raise revenue from natural gas operations. I have mentioned only a few with a large impact with which I have been personally involved.

Members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees and their staffs now are plugging in the numbers to reach a balanced budget that almost certainly will have no overall-spending increase. But in keeping to the $27.3-billion target set by the governor, we must avoid foolhardy cuts. While the economy requires sacrifice from all of us, the sacrifice has to be shared fairly and wisely. We need reasonable compromises that lead to a sensible and balanced budget, giving Pennsylvania the best chance to deal with the immediate opportunities and needs facing us, and to build from in the longer term.

Town Hall Meeting
Senator Schwank discusses the upcoming state budget and other issues of concern with dozens of residents who attended her inaugural Town Hall meeting, held in Boyertown on Thursday, June 2.

In another matter, I want to thank everyone who took the time to come to my recent district office Open House at the Rockland Professional Center, 1940 N. 13th Street in Reading, and my Town Hall at the Boyertown Borough Hall on June 2.

About 200 people turned out for the Open House and met with members of my district office staff and me, while about 50 showed up for the first of a series of Town Halls I will be holding across the 11th Senate District.

I enjoyed the chance to personally hear and learn the concerns of the people who attended. There are a quarter million individual stories in the 11th District, and events like these are critical for me to be able to do my job of representing you well in Harrisburg. Look for more information in the future about one in your area. I hope you will consider coming. I want you to have a voice and advocate in Harrisburg.

Again, I always welcome your questions, concerns, comments and suggestions, so please contact me at anytime. Also, visit my Facebook page for more news and information.

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For Updates on this and other legislative initiatives, stay in touch with me on the Internet through my website or on Facebook.






Senator Judy Schwank speaks out on the need to maintain budget funding