Yesterday morning, I visited Mother Bethel A.M.E., my Philadelphia church home -- and the sermon touched on something we at TRMS have also been looking at recently. The title was "The Ripple Effect," and brought front and center Pennsylvania's new governor, Tom Corbett, and the budget cuts he proposed last week. Our pastor, the Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler:
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett
What bothers me most about the current discourse and conversation in our nation around budgets and finance is that it seems that people continue to forget about the ripple effect...We are connected to one another, and when we create financial distress in one place, you can’t control what happens when the ripples come.
On TRMS, we've covered how Republican governors in states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan would "solve" that problem. We've also examined the rather magical approach that Florida Governor Rick Scott has for his budget issues: reducing public education funding by nearly $2 billion and giving almost all of those reductions away in tax cuts.
In Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett has a twist on Mr. Scott's approach, directing the money saved by harsh cuts in education (and state worker rights) to something else: prisons. Public education? Slashed more than any other area. Funding for the state university system, including Penn State? Literally cut in half. Funding for the state's Department of Corrections? Increased by 11 percent, a total of around $186 million, despite its existing burden on the state's budget.
Judging by the moans and groans that followed that part of the sermon, the church didn't like this at all. Neither did financial reporter Ben Waxman, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Pennsylvania's prison population has grown by 500 percent since 1980 despite few changes in crime patterns....Throwing the book at minor offenders is a policy choice made by state lawmakers.
If Corbett were serious about cutting all costs, including prisons, he'd identify the problem as our drug-sentencing laws. Instead, he's throwing money at a broken system and claiming it's out of his control.
It's not easy to fill a $4 billion hole, but the first step is correctly identifying the problem.
Governor Corbett was one of the new quote-unquote fiscally conservative Republican governors elected last November, and his rhetoric was party boilerplate: smaller, less expensive government; deficit hawk; no new taxes.
But this is no longer about crowd-pleasing campaign rhetoric. It is about how these brand-new Republican governors are now actually governing. These budget proposals are the stones tossed into the water. Governors like Tom Corbett speak through their budgets, telling students it is more prudent to invest in their future incarceration than in their education. What will be the ripple effect?