Monday, June 7, 2010

"Whose side are you on? Gas companies, or our state's seniors?"

Nursing home caregivers from across the state converged on Harrisburg today to ask their Senators, "Whose side are you on? Gas companies, or our state's seniors?"

The members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania are urging the Senate to close corporate tax loopholes and enact a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction, before drastic cuts to the nursing home care in this year's state budget. Pennsylvania spends close to $2 Billion in Medicaid funds to provide nursing home care to the elderly.

"If you cut the Medicaid dollars coming to our nursing home, then veterans and other seniors will be left without the care they need. It’s time to make big oil companies who make money in our state pay their fair share,” said Michelle Stewart, a certified nursing assistant who works in a Montgomery County nursing home.

About 200 caregivers and other union members marched through the streets around the Capitol carrying giant, green dollar signs and a huge black cloth representing the oil and gas spills that could threaten our environment and economy. They also tried to deliver an invoice for unpaid taxes to the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association and the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, but there was no answer at their offices.

“I’ve flown over some of these wells with my boyfriend and I’ve seen the amount of water used to break the rock and release the gas. I’ve read about the chemicals mixed with the water and I wonder where it will end up,” said Kathy Shaner, a certified nursing assistant from Washington County, PA. “The residents I care for are not getting rich from all the gas in their county, but they could benefit if these big corporations paid their fair share.”

On May 28, Royal Dutch Shell agreed to acquire Marshall, PA-based East Resources Inc. for $4.7 billion. And last December, Exxon Mobil Corp. announced a $41 billion acquisition of XTO Energy Inc., including its extensive Marcellus Shale holdings.

"Unless Pennsylvania begins collecting revenue from big corporations that profit in Pennsylvania, we’re on the road to a $1.1 billion budget deficit over the next 2 years,” said Kevin Hefty, Vice President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. “Senators, when we ask whose side you are on, the choice is clear: be on the side of our local communities, working families, and seniors who need long term care.”

Last week, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center ( launched an online ticker showing the tax dollars lost by not enacting a severance tax on drilling in the Marcellus Shale. At the time of the rally, the ticker showed Pennsylvania had missed out on $55,756,000 that could have been used to help fill in the revenue gap in the budget.

The rally today is part of a larger campaign by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and other labor unions to ensure that a state budget that doesn't cut essential services is passed before the June 30th deadline.

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