At a press conference this morning hosted by the Campaign for a Fresh Start, chairwoman Katie McGinty challenged Gov. Tom Corbett on cuts to education funding during his tenure and the recent scandal surrounding his former special adviser on higher education Ron Tomalis. Taken together, said McGinty, those two issues have created a burden for Pennsylvania taxpayers.
Tomalis announced he would step down last week after Democrats, seizing on a Post-Gazette story, began questioning what exactly Tomalis was doing to merit being paid a $139,542 salary. McGinty said the governor has been unable and unwilling to provide details regarding Tomalis' work. And while Tomalis, a former Corbett education secretary, agreed to step down, his work as an adviser reportedly will boost his state pension.
"Mr. Tomalis is costing the taxpayer a huge price," McGinty said. "So latest count he's taken out about $200,000 of the public's limited resources. And now we know that the governor has seen fit to enable Mr. Tomalis to have a 25 percent boost in his pension as well. This is a huge cost burden to tax payers."
McGinty, whose group is backing gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf and other Democratic candidates, also criticized education funding cuts that have taken place during Corbett's term. According to McGinty, 77 percent of Pennsylvania school districts will have to raise property taxes as a result of decreased funding.
Pittsburgh teachers union President Nina Esposito-Visgitis explained the impact funding cuts are having on the Pittsburgh Public School District.
"Here in Pittsburgh. where Gov. Corbett's cuts have cost our public schools over $27 million in state revenue, our teachers have been demoralized as they've been made to watch their students — many times the neediest students of all — lose valuable services and programs that our teachers know their students need to succeed," said Esposito-Visgitis.
Corbett has been dogged by the education-funding issue throughout his campaign. His administration maintains that funding reductions were prompted by a reduction in federal support.
"Over the last four years, our administration has increased the state’s investment in our public schools by $1.46 billion to now historic levels," said Corbett's lieutenant governor Jim Cawley in a July 29 press release. "It’s shameful that the teachers’ union bosses continually perpetuate a lie to put their own interests over those of the students and teachers they serve."
Education funding by the state has increased in recent years, though not nearly enough to keep pace with the decline in federal support. And critics say that Corbett takes the blame, in part by refusing to impose a state severance tax on natural-gas drilling. At this morning's press conference, for example, was Lisa Stout-Bashioum, a current school board representative in the Brentworth School District running for a seat in the state House. She said Gov. Corbett could restore funding for education by imposing a tax on natural gas companies.
"In Allegheny and Washington counties, Tom Corbett has taken more than $60 million from our students since he was elected," Stout-Bashioum said. "Tom Corbett won't tax drillers even a little bit to help our children succeed. Why? Because children aren't donors."