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5 Right-Wing Governors Gutting Schools to Fund Prisons, Tax Breaks for the Rich...And a Bible Theme Park

Posted by on Feb. 12, 2012 at 9:56 AM
  • 8 Replies

5 Right-Wing Governors Gutting Schools to Fund Prisons, Tax Breaks for the Rich...And a Bible Theme Park

When state after state slashes education dollars, we see what matters to them--and where they spend while cutting schools tells us even more.



It's budget time again, and with the economy still in rough shape, that means it's time for governors to show where their priorities are.

It's probably not surprising that right-wing governors claim they can't fund education properly when revenues are low—we've been seeing this happen for years, even before an actual economic crisis knocked states sideways. But cutting funds to schools isn't the only option for states even if they do have to balance their budgets. There are many other places to cut—and of course, they have the option of raising taxes, something the conservative crowd simply refuses to do.

Like any other choice made by a politician, budgeting is a decision laced with ideology. When state after state slashes education dollars (and often at the same time funnels more of the money they do spend to private companies running charter schools, or gives it away as vouchers) we see what matters to them. And when you take a look at the programs that get funded, or the people who get fat tax cuts as money is drained out of the schools, well, you see what matters to state governments.

Here's a look at five of the governors taking money away from their states' kids, and a look at some of the things they are still funding.

1. Pennsylvania

Governor Tom Corbett set off a wave of anger this week when his new budget hit—and slashed a full $1.2 billion from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education. According to theEducation Law Center, that's taking a full 15 percent out of the budgets of the state's already-struggling schools.

That would be bad enough. But, as the Law Center noted, “the cuts fall hardest on school districts with the greatest student poverty.” That means schools in poor districts will get less funding, while wealthy districts lose very little. So the Reading School District in Berks County, which has a frighting 90 percent student poverty rate, loses $1,083 per student, while the Wyomissing School District, with only 22 percent student poverty, is losing just $112 per student.

Corbett expects the schools to make up the funding cuts, naturally, by cutting teachers' pay and firing more experienced teachers—which probably means bigger classes and more work for those who remain with lower salaries.

And then there's the state's universities, which already took a 20 percent hit last year. According to the Delaware County Daily Times, Corbett's cutting $230 million from Penn State, Pitt and Temple—an “astounding” 25 percent.

Meanwhile, what doesn't get cut in this budget? While schoolkids in poor districts will see their teachers laid off and their classes get bigger, Corbett's pumped up funding for prisons (11 percent) probation and parole (6 percent) and state police (6 percent). Guess we know where he expects those kids to wind up.

2. Ohio

Ohio governor John Kasich should be used to protests by now—he certainly has seen enough of them since he decided to attack his state's public workers last winter. So although candidates for the state legislature joined Occupy protestersin decrying Kasich's budget cuts to education while eliminating the estate tax for the state's wealthiest, it doesn't seem to have made much of an impact.

According to Policy Matters Ohio, the state's budget (signed this summer) takes $1.8 billion in funding away from Ohio's elementary and secondary schools over the next two school years. The new report noted that 65 percent of respondents to its survey of Ohio school districts say they are facing budget shortfalls as a result of state budget cuts—that means pay freezes, pay cuts, not replacing teachers who retire; 45 percent report “reductions in force”--layoffs.

In his State of the State speech, Kasich touted education as a solution to the state's struggles, but it's hard to see how the state can educate its way out of anything when school districts keep facing cuts. (He urged universities to “commercialize” their research, which is a fancy way of saying produce things they can sell to corporations or that will entice grants from corporate America.)

If Kasich really wanted to demonstrate a commitment to education, he could change his mind about the state's estate tax, which hit the 7 percent of wealthy Ohioans who inherit more than $338,333, and will be abolished next January. That'd save about $250 million a year that could go to the far more than 7 percent of Ohioans who make use of public schools.

3. South Carolina

Kasich's elimination of the estate tax is certainly one example of policies that favor the 1 percent and leave students out in the cold, but South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has gone Kasich one better and proposes to entirely eliminate the corporate income tax in her state. That would cost nearly $140 million in the first year alone—so Haley's taking a chunk of that cash out of public schools.

Her budget, according to Columbia, SC news channel WLTX , cuts “a key funding stream” for public schools, one that primarily goes to teachers' salaries. And another local station, WJBF, reports that while Haley cut public school teachers' incomes, she includes an extra $10 million for charter schools. So that's less money for public employees, more money for private companies using state education funds.

John Ruoff, policy analyst and founder of South Carolina Fair Share, pointed out that eliminating the state corporate tax is likely to have little impact on job creation—but a big impact on much-needed public programs like the schools. "Governor Haley ought to be a lot more concerned about how we develop a state that businesses want to come to," Ruoff told Tax Analysts. That means having decent infrastructure and a well-educated workforce, not just a zero tax rate.

4. Alabama

In no state is it so abundantly clear that the governor is prioritizing other spending over education than in Alabama, where Governor Robert Bentley has proposed taking $230 million from the Education Trust Fund and putting it into the General Fund, which pays for prisons, courts and other parts of the state government.

Henry Mabry of the Alabama Education Association (a teachers' group) told theBirmingham News, “The governor's actions are absolutely outrageous and do nothing but cut education to bail out the prison system.” And Bentley seemed to inadvertently echo Mabry when he defended his move by saying, “By doing that, we will not have to let a single prisoner out of prison.”

He also wanted to shift Medicaid costs for children's healthcare into the education fund, an additional drain of about $185 million, and his budget for 2013 cuts 1,381 public school teachers, principals and other staffers, and takes $41.1 million from universities and $5.4 million for two-year colleges.

Bentley's plan is so outrageous that it's drawn condemnations from both parties in the state legislature—including the chair of a committee it would need to pass. "It's not going to fly. It's dead," Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, told the Birmingham News.

5. Kentucky

Just to note that it's not just Republicans who cut education dollars and spend on ridiculous things instead—Kentucky governor Steve Beshear is a Democrat, albeit one who brags on his official Web site about “trimming the state workforce” and “reforming” child welfare. Yet his budget offered up a 6.4 percent cut to higher ed and a decrease in funds to K-12 students as well.

But that's not the best part. Travis Waldron at ThinkProgress explained that the governor did preserve a $43 million tax break for a “Bible-themed amusement park — which will include a 500-foot by 75-foot reproduction of Noah’s Ark,” as well as $11 million in spending on the highway interchange that will be near the park.

Waldron pointed out, “...lawmakers could jeopardize Kentucky’s substantial gainsin K-12 education and ensure ballooning tuition rates at its colleges and universities, all while they preserve tax breaks for what critics have dubbed the “Ark Park.”,_tax_breaks_for_the_rich...and_a_bible_theme_park/?page=entire

by on Feb. 12, 2012 at 9:56 AM
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by Ruby Member on Feb. 12, 2012 at 11:08 AM

So much crap.  In the stadium debate in my area they will probably raise taxes in order to pay for a freaking football stadium, costing the state hundreds of millions, meanwile we have been borrowing money from k-12 education to balance the budget.  Sure, mae the schools pay interest on loans but the Vikings can't suffer.  (eyeroll)

by on Feb. 12, 2012 at 11:15 AM

HOw did I KNOW alabama would be on that list.

I swear Bentley is the biggest idiot ever.  He refuses to cut any funding from prisons...and yet schools are getting hit hard. If I remember reading right the state pays more per prisoner than it does per student.  

  His plan has drawn a lot of ire from dems and most of the republicans here. The man needs to go...and take his horrible ideas with him.  Any one else want him for a governor?  You're welcome to him! 

by Member on Feb. 12, 2012 at 11:16 AM
You left out MS. Our gov wants to cut $70 more million from education. We are already $250 million underfunded. But, we continue to raise funding or at least not cut funding for prisons.
by Momma Moose on Feb. 12, 2012 at 11:21 AM

Duh. Because degenerates and murderers rotting in prison are more important than our children's growing brains. Didn't you get the memo?

by on Feb. 12, 2012 at 11:30 AM
1 mom liked this
Yep. Kids walk off the stage with a half ass diploma right into the gates of the local prisons

Quoting heidimoose134:

Duh. Because degenerates and murderers rotting in prison are more important than our children's growing brains. Didn't you get the memo?

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by Emerald Member on Feb. 12, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Lets just cover Ohio to see how you spin it.

Local governments would see a cut growing to 50 percent and state colleges and universities would be limited to 3.5-percent tuition increases under Gov. John Kasich's new two-year budget.

The former would cost counties, municipalities and townships $167.1 million the first year including an estimated $5 million for Columbus and $388.2 million starting in the second year, when the full 50 percent reduction would take effect.

For example, Circleville, which received $687,000 from the state's local government allocation last year, budgeted for $638,000 this year, or about 13 percent of its overall total. The real number under the state budget would total $515,000, with a drop to $343,000 the following year.

"We're cut to the bone now. I don't know what we are going to do," said Mayor Chuck Taylor. "Its going to be devastating to us, to be honest." Like most cities, Circleville spends most of its funds on public safety.

Kasich said those governmental units will get money back by sharing services and relief from the state on such issues as requirements to pay prevailing (union) wages.

About 30 protesters from the Youngstown Developmental Center showed up outside the 31st-floor Riffe Center conference room where Kasich and several cabinet directors laid out the budget for the news media.

About 400 school districts are expected to see increases in state-generated funding. Kasich said aid to both K-12 and higher education "slightly increases" in his budget. The increases in state aid amount to $170 million for K-12 schools, $62 million for higher education, said Budget Director Tim Keen.

However, it doesn't appear that schools will see an overall funding increase because of the loss of $875 million in federal stimulus money they got for operations that is built into the current two-year budget.

Taking into consideration all funds for K-12, funding in 2012 would decrease 11.5 percent and go down 4.9 percent in 2013. Basic aid would drop by about $1.3 billion over two years: 12.2 percent the first year, 7.6 percent in the second.

Kasich said the budget contains "massive reforms" in primary and secondary education that would help save money. Robert Sommers, director of the Governor's Office of 21st Century Education, said, "In Ohio, spending has increased while achievement has remained flat."

The Kasich budget would double the EdChoice program to 28,000 voucher-eligible children and remove the current cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Ohio. The new setup also would allow either parents or teachers to take over troubled schools.

"If you are a failing school, we are going to deal with you," Kasich said. "We could pull ourselves out of this ditch if we start moving on this."

Teachers would get a bonus when their students learn more than they are expected to in a year, he said. And college professors are going to be asked to teach an additional course every other year.

The budget allows universities to use single prime contracting, a process that advocates say saves a significant percentage in the cost of construction projects. Currently, the practice is being used in four pilot projects, including one at Ohio State University.

"I am grateful to Governor Kasich, whose proposed budget reflects the unquestionable financial challenges of the day, as well as the understanding that higher education and our state's long-term strength are inextricably linked," said OSU President E. Gordon Gee in a statement. "It is my firm belief that times of great challenge which require sacrifice are also times of enormous opportunity."

Zeroed out are state funds for the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at Ohio State, the George Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University and the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, a combined cut of $861,000. Third Frontier funds are preserved, but support for Ohio medical schools was chopped by 10 percent, and aid to the agriculture cooperative extension service was trimmed by $2.2 million. College officials say any gains they get would be erased by the loss of $309 million in federal stimulus money.

Overall, state funding for higher education would decrease by 10.5 percent, to nearly $2.3 billion in the first year of the budget. But public colleges would receive a 3.7 percent increase the second year, for a total of $2.38 billion.

Many college officials had feared 15 percent to 20 percent cuts.

"We're very pleased with the governor's focus on construction reform, but we're concerned about the reductions in funding," said Bruce E. Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, a group represents the four-year public schools. "But we understand that we have to be part of the shared sacrifice."

Local governments currently get $665 million per year from local government funding by the state. Kasich and groups including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce have stressed that local governments will need to find new, more efficient ways to operate, including more collaboration and consolidation of services. Libraries also are expected to get cut 5 percent from current funding levels.

Doug Evans, director of the Ohio Library Council, said the cuts could have been worse.

"Considering the financial situation of the state and all the discussion about breathtaking cuts, I suggest we are somewhat relieved."

About 250 Ohio libraries rely solely on Ohio's Public Library Fund for their funding, however. For those, Evans said, "It certainly is going to have an impact."

Interest in the historic state budget was intense, overwhelming the Office of Budget and Management's website.

"Today, I keep my promise," Kasich proclaimed as he took the stage to introduce his "Jobs Budget." "This budget is woven with one reform after another."

Because of an apparent change in accounting methods, the bottom line for the state's general revenue fund actually increases: 5.1 percent in the budget year starting July 1, and 6.3 percent the year after that. Total spending for the two-year period: $55.7 billion, around $5 billion more than now.

"There's a new reality in the way you ought to look at the budget," the governor said.

However, the total for all funds decreases by 5.3 percent in fiscal year 2012 and grows by 1.3 percent the following year, to $60.2 billion.

"There are no mass layoffs in this budget," Kasich said. "Some people are going to be out but it's not a strategy that we're going to get rid of all these people and that's going to save us some money."

Keen acknowledged that there would be fewer state employees after the budget is implemented, but said he didn't know how many.

Keen said the spending plan does not include the "Draconian" cuts many had envisioned, but "thoughtfully allocates limited resources." He credited Kasich with taking on "entrenched interests" that previous governors declined to confront.

"I think it's an outstanding package," said the budget director. "It's the right budget for these difficult times."

Shortly after the budget was released, the criticism started flowing.

"I am deeply concerned that the governor's decision to slash funding to local governments will put a tremendous strain on communities across the state. Even with additional flexibility to share resources, the state is creating a fiscal crisis for local governments that will likely lead to tax increases, reduced services and additional layoffs," said Sen. Capri Cafaro, Hubbard Democrat who is the Senate's minority leader.

"In a wicked shell game, the only thing transformative in this budget is that local governments have been handed the biggest tax shift in Ohio history while wealthy Ohioans were given a tax cut." said Brian Rothenberg, executive director of the liberal group ProgressOhio. "This is the biggest shift in taxes onto local government in Ohio history."

The budget preserves a 21 percent cut in the state income tax implemented under GOP Gov. Bob Taft and continued by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

Innovation Ohio, a new liberal think tank in Columbus, called the budget "a job killer that would raise taxes on the middle class while shielding the wealthiest Ohioans from any sacrifice whatsoever."

"While vowing in his State of the State speech not to raise taxes, the governor merely proposes to shift the burden from the state to local communities which, in turn, would be forced to raise taxes simply to maintain the levels of police, fire, and other services they currently have," the group said.

Innovation Ohio calculated that more than 7,000 K-12 teachers would lose their jobs.

Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said in a statement: "Under (Kasich's) proposal, local governments will have no other options but to cut services and layoff workers or raise taxes to keep fire stations, hospitals, and libraries open. And his privatization schemes will saddle future generations of Ohioans with budget shortfalls and increased costs for services with lower quality."

Putting state prisons and other state resources up for bid amounts to a "fire sale" of Ohio's assets that will give taxpayers even less say over the operation of state government, said leaders of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the state's largest public employee union.

"They say taxpayers need to be at the table on collective bargaining contracts, that there needs to be increased transparency," said Eddie L. Parks, union president, in a release. "But by selling off state assets like prisons or the Lottery you've completely closed the door on transparency. Taxpayers will have no idea how their money is being spent or where it is going."

The budget is bolstered by $440 million from restructuring about 5 percent of the state's debt and pushing the payments due into future years. Delaying those repayments will require the selling of bonds.

The budget includes $1.4 billion in Medicaid reductions, health care provider cuts, a lease of the state's liquor sales operation and the selling of five prisons, which will be privately operated.

The prison sale would bring in an estimated $200 million for the state, plus a biennial savings calculated at $27 million in operating costs because two state-operated institutions will be turned over to private operators.

In addition to the sales, the agency will lay off 115 parole employees who do pre-sentence investigations. That is estimated to save $8.1 million over two years. However, many of those employees could be absorbed into other positions next year.

The budget also calls for consolidating prison camps into parent institutions at the London, Ross and Toledo prisons this year, and at Trumbull next year. That would save an estimated $6.7 million over two years.

It is anticipated that the now-closed Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility would be sold for conversion to an adult prison under a private operator. That would help ease the burden on crowding in the state system, which is 30 percent over capacity.

In contracting with private prison operators, the state will stipulate that they only house Ohio inmates. High-security prisoners, females and inmates with "substantial" health and mental health issues will not be allowed.

Early retirement options will be offered to employees at the Grafton Correctional Institution and North Central Correctional Institutions.

Officials said the reasoning behind the financial changes is that the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction had $300 million in one-time federal stimulus money last year.

"We're going to save jobs," said Gary C. Mohr, the state prisons director.

He said the number of beds would not be reduced, because of state system's overcrowding. Two corrections officers were taken to the hospital in the past two days after assaults by inmates.

"We have to develop a safer system," Mohr said.

While a proposal to open state parks to oil and gas drilling was not part of the budget documents, it will be in the legislation implementing the budget. Department of Naturals Resources officials forwarded a section of the bill that would give the agency the authority to lease state park land for oil and gas exploration.

It's not clear how much money would be raised. The funds from oil and gas leases and royalties would be used to reduce a $500 million-plus backlog of overdue maintenance and repairs at state parks, Jones said.

Environmental groups already are lining up to oppose the proposal.

"It's impossible to preserve and drill your state parks at the same time," said Jack Shaner, lobbyist for the Ohio Environmental Council.

Laura Jones, a Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman, said state will make sure its parks aren't spoiled by drilling.

"We are going to ensure that this is done in a wise and responsible and efficient manner," Jones said. "This is a way for Ohioans to continue to have the state parks they love at a level of service they've come to expect."

The agency, which oversees state parks, forests, mining, and soil and water conservation, would take a $48.2 million, 14 percent budget cut next fiscal year.

County soil and water conservation districts across the state would see a 44 percent cut in state aid, losing $6.4 million next fiscal year. Jennifer Fish, director of the Franklin County Soil and Water District, said she's expecting to lose 25 percent of her overall budget.

"This will have a cumulative effect on efforts to protect water resources in the Franklin County area," Fish said.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which is almost completely funded by fees collected from businesses and landfills, would take a $25 million, 12 percent budget cut next fiscal year, spending a total $187.9 million. The cuts are spread across agency offices that deal with air and water pollution, drinking water and landfills.

Shaner said cutting EPA spending doesn't help eliminate the deficit but does hurt efforts to clean the state's water and air.

EPA spokesman Chris Abbruzzesse said the agency's spending actually is balanced with money saved from previous budgets. The cuts, he said, are needed to delay increasing fees on businesses to balance future spending.

Kasich wants to cut $9.4 million over the next two years from public-transit funding.

The Central Ohio Transit Authority and bus systems in seven other big cities would take the bulk of the hit instead of the small-town and rural systems that rely more heavily on state help.

COTA already had canceled plans for new routes during a round of state cuts in February. The latest proposed cut would come from subsidies that help systems offer discounted fares for elderly and disabled riders.

President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Lhota said COTA will work to absorb the loss without affecting service.

"It's unfortunate in times of rising gas prices that we're reducing the amount of funds to public transit," he said.

Kasich was forced to deal with an estimated $8 billion budget shortfall, brought about largely by the more than $8.5 billion in one-time money used to balance the current two-year, $50.5 billion budget.

Both Kasich and Gov. Ted Strickland refused to offer specific ideas on a budget solution during their hard-fought campaign last year. And since taking office, Kasich has offered only tantalizing hints at what would be in his budget.

After an unprecedented four straight years of declining tax revenue, the state budget picture is getting noticeably brighter. The latest numbers from the Office of Budget and Management show that through February, tax receipts for this fiscal year are $470 million ahead of projections, or 4.5 percent.

Tax collections, which are running 7.5 percent ahead of the same period in 2010, have exceeded estimates for seven straight months.

Lawmakers who have seen the plan have expressed pleasant surprise by the level of funding that Kasich has proposed for schools and universities.

Two years ago, former Gov. Ted Strickland unveiled his new "evidence-based" school funding formula, which was designed to cost out the components of a high-quality education, including smaller class sizes and all-day kindergarten, and put a price tag on them.

But the budget crunch did not allow Strickland to implement the plan in any noticeable way, and 400 districts saw basic operating funding cuts of up to 1 percent per year over the last two years. Republicans criticized the cuts.

Kasich has said that he planned to do away with Strickland's formula. He has said he wants to give schools more flexibility and put more money into the classroom.

Dispatch reporters Catherine Candisky, Spencer Hunt, Mary Beth Lane, Randy Ludlow, Encarnacion Pyle, Joe Vardon and Robert Vitale contributed to this story.

by Ruby Member on Feb. 12, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Ohio here. The only reason our school district is still open? The Sun Coke corporation *lovingly* gifted us with some of the tax money they got out of paying last year.
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by Emerald Member on Feb. 12, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Cornett is a dick

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