Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Citizens Deliver Pie to Lawmakers with Message to Close Loopholes

PA can avoid cuts that will hurt families, children and seniors without raising taxes
HARRISBURG, PA (March 26, 2012) — With a pie in one hand and a list of tax loopholes in the other, Pennsylvania citizens delivered a message to state lawmakers today — we can restore cuts that have hurt seniors, children and families without raising taxes. By closing loopholes and delaying tax cuts for corporations, lawmakers can enact a better budget.

“Close the loopholes, grow the revenue pie, and make our tax system fair for all,” said Stephen Drachler, executive director of United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania and co-chair of Better Choices for Pennsylvania. “That way we can meet the needs of all our citizens and improve their lives."

Better Choices for Pennsylvania, a coalition of organizations working for a responsible state budget, organized the “grow the revenue pie” event Monday, along with the faith community, and advocates for women, school children, college students, and people with disabilities.

Volunteer pie deliverers stopped by each lawmaker’s office to drop off a pie and a handout that contrasts existing tax loopholes with funding cuts that could be restored by closing the loophole. In each case, additional revenue could help fund vital services without raising taxes.

The handout shows, for example, that funding could be restored for education, colleges, General Assistance, and other health and human services by closing the Delaware loophole, delaying the planned phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax, and closing other tax loopholes.

View the full table here.

After delivering the pies to lawmakers, several citizens gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to share their stories. One of them was Jake Fleming of Philadelphia, who said the small General Assistance benefit he received a few years ago saved his life. Fleming was homeless and sick in 2008. After 30 years of addiction, he decided it was time to get help.

“I’ve been clean and sober for four years now,” he said. “I’m employed, I’m paying taxes, I’m supporting myself, I’m supporting my 14-year-old daughter.” 

Fleming said the Governor’s budget, which eliminates the General Assistance program, would be devastating for communities across the state.

“Homelessness will skyrocket,” he said. “People seeking treatment in recovery houses and treatment programs will have nowhere to go.”

Joseph Martin of Cumberland County found himself homeless last year. Thankfully, a friend gave him shelter while he got back on his feet, but even today his housing costs are close to half his income.

“The citizens of the commonwealth need affordable housing available in their communities,” Martin said. “Without a safe and affordable place to live, recovery is hard to find.” More people will end up being hospitalized or incarcerated at higher costs, he added.

Schuylkill Haven School District Superintendent Loraine Felker outlined the dramatic impact that state budget cuts for schools have had on her rural Schuylkill County district. 

“If the state doesn’t change its support for education right now, within three, if we’re lucky four, years, we will be totally bankrupt,” she said. 

“Education is our future, our students are our future. If we want to have a thriving state 20 years form now, we need to do right by our children now.  And that means we have to educate them well.”

Dr. Steve Hicks, President of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, raised concerns about budget cuts putting affordable college out of reach for more and more Pennsylvanians.

Peg Dierkers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and co-chair of Better Choices for Pennsylvania, summed up the coalition’s message: “We are here today asking our governor and our state legislature to increase the size of the funding pie. After five years of cuts, families can no longer afford education, get supports they need to go to work every day, to take care of their elderly parents.”

Drachler added that it was important that Pennsylvania meet its moral obligation to the hungry and homeless, to people who are sick or disabled, to children and seniors by closing loopholes and funding the services that struggling families need.

Better Choices for Pennsylvania is a coalition working for a responsible state budget. The coalition is built on the principle that before making deep service cuts that hurt Pennsylvania families and the economy, policymakers should close tax loopholes and end special interest tax breaks. Learn more at http://betterchoicesforpa.com.

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