State Rep. Tom Houghton
I want to apologize for two things. First, it took way too long to pass a budget. Second, I was premature a few weeks ago when I touted the potential deal at hand, although I did state that I wanted to wait to see the individual budget line items.
Shortly after submitting that op-ed, I learned that the "deal" meant that our Democratic caucus was being asked to vote to tax the arts and non-profits like fire companies, VFWs and American Legions on their "small games of chance" fund raising. We rank and file members simply rebelled and said "no." Our leadership had mistakenly shook hands with the Senate majority prior to taking the pulse of our caucus.
Property taxes are clearly the major issue in Southern Chester County. Those in the Oxford and Octorara school districts, with recent increases, can certainly attest to that!
For many years now, both as a candidate -- where it was a major part of my platform -- and as a supporter of prior candidates, I have argued that Harrisburg must increase the level of education funding from the mid-30th percentile to 50 percent (where it was in the 1980's). The more the legislature funds, the less pressure on school boards to raise property taxes on homeowners who are footing nearly 65 percent of the cost to educate our children. That is simply unacceptable, especially in light of the legislature's constitutional requirement to fund education.
We had to give a little on other issues as is the nature of negotiations, but our caucus and the governor -- on education funding -- got what we wanted. Was the impasse worth it? Now, I know a lot of folks suffered tremendously without state funding, especially daycares. And, I realize that there are many programs that will experience drastic cuts. Some were justified and some were not. Let's just hope our economy recovers soon.
In the end, Oxford School District, out of 501 schools statewide, will receive the second largest percentage increase in state basic education funding over last year! Avon Grove is number 12 on that list. Octorara and Coatesville will also benefit tremendously. Our charter schools will receive full funding as well.
We made a promise to increase education funding to 50 percent by 2014 and I am pleased that even in a year when I stepped into the worst deficit in Pennsylvania history as a freshman ($3.2 billion shortfall), we were able to keep us on target.
For those of you who have contacted my office over the last several months, really stressing over the lack of a budget and/or painstakingly describing to us what funding cuts will mean to you or your organization, thank you for your patience and again, I am sorry. Please contact us with questions regarding any specific budget line item or if you simply need our assistance for any other matter. THoughton@pahouse.net or 610-593-6565. .