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Thursday, January 30, 2014

State Dems announce budget priorities

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 2:33 PM

In an effort to draw contrasts against one of the most politically vulnerable governors in the country, state Democrats outlined their budget priorities in simultaneous press conferences around the state earlier today.

State sens. Jay Costa, Matt Smith and Wayne Fontana, speaking to a room of beneficiaries of various social services at Mercy Behavioral Health in South Side, proposed funding increases to everything from education to mental health programs.

"Pennsylvania badly needs an investment plan," Fontana said, "Getting people back to work remains the biggest issue we face." Fontana followed on president Barack Obama's coattails, who stumped in West Mifflin yesterday for an increase to the minimum wage.

The state "has not passed wage legislation since 2007," Fontana said, adding that the wage rate needs to be pegged to inflation.

They criticized Gov. Tom Corbett for refusing to opt-in to the Medicaid expansion available to states under the Affordable Care Act and argued that among the largest 10 states, Pennsylvania is at the bottom of the pack in terms of job growth. "It's a dismal number," Costa said.

Smith spoke mostly on education, arguing for a $300 million increase focused on early education programs. "The costs in education today are not related to the loss in stimulus funds," Smith said, responding to Gov. Tom Corbett's insistence that he has not reduced education funding.

To fund these proposals, Costa called for a range of changes including charter school funding reform, a tax on smokeless tobacco and wine and spirits "modernization," including variable pricing around the state.

And while their proposals and complaints have been aired throughout much of Corbett's tenure, these issues will likely frame Democrats' attempts to unseat him.

Corbett is scheduled to deliver his budget address next Tuesday, February 4.

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