Health - June 14, 2013

Governor Corbett picks Blue over Red for state nominations

This week, Governor Tom Corbett presented his nominations for state appointees to the Senate and confusion ensued. Governor Corbett has nominated two former Democratic office-holders, a Democratic Senate staffer and one Republican. Traditionally governors nominate more candidates of their own affiliation rather than the minority party. While Democrats were delighted by this unexpected turn of events, some members of the GOP were less than pleased. Drew Crompton, chief of staff and counsel to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R—Jefferson, showed his discontent by simply stating, “This was something different than what were thought was going to happen.”

Governor Corbett nominated Gladys Brown, deputy chief counsel to Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D—Allegheny, to a seat on the Public Utility Commission. Former US Rep. Tim Holden, a Democrat from Schuylkill County, was nominated to an open seat on the PA Liquor Control Board. And former state Senator Sean Logan, a Democrat from Monroeville, was nominated to a spot on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The lone Republican to get a nomination from the Governor was Superior Court President Judge Correale Steven, whom is expected to fill the vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Although there is much speculation as to why Governor Corbett’s nomination package was loaded with Democrats, it might be a tactic the Governor is using to play nice with Senate Democrats.  Corbett is still pushing his agenda to have deals made on liquor privatization, transportation funding, and pension reform by the June 30 budget deadline.

PSEA, Department of Education clash on funding issues

The Pennsylvania State Education Association released a report that has stirred up varying perspectives on the Commonwealth's current education system. The report illustrates the impact of the $860 million reduction on Pennsylvania's school districts, including elimination of preschool, art, music, and physical education at some locations. This year's budget reinstated $39 million of the funding package that was reduced two years ago. Next year, Governor Corbett plans to increase the funding level to $90 million. Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s teachers union, believes Corbett's “cuts-only” approach will deprive a generation of students of quality education, and that this small increase in funds still leaves them $700 million short of what they need.

Tim Eller from the Department of Education offered an opposing perspective. He said the funding cut that is plaguing school districts was a result from the loss of federal stimulus dollars. He argued that the 2009 stimulus package sent districts on a hiring spree that is now rebalancing itself to pre-stimulus staffing numbers. He also said that by next year Corbett will have increased funding for schools close to $1.25 billion, which includes accounting for rising pension costs. While Crossey understands Eller’s point he feels the current state of economic support is harming the poorest and most vulnerable schools. An example of the disparity in funding can be found by comparing Reading and Wyomissing school districts. The Wyomissing school district, a predominantly affluent area, has seen a $112 reduction per student, while the lower-income Reading school district has experienced a loss of $1,138 per student.  Ultimately PSEA would like lawmakers to fully restore the funding back to 2011 levels, find new revenue sources, and “make Pennsylvania like the other 47 states that have a formula for driving out school funding.”