Often times when debating or discussing politics and policy, facts are tossed aside in favor of more emotional arguments. Even worse, when one side of a legitimate but spirited debate falters, it has somehow become acceptable to either refuse to accept the facts as accurate or point out some comparable flaw in an effort to make two wrongs make a right.
I am writing this column from the floor of the House of Representatives as Governor Corbett presents his proposed 2013-14 state budget. While it will take a few days to break down the phone book-sized document to figure out the impact of his proposals, I thought it would be a good time to look at a few policy points about important areas we may be discussing as part of this year’s budget debate.
1. Last year, Pennsylvania's lottery had a record $1.06 billion net revenue and a record 8.5 percent sales increase. Lottery sales hit a record $64.7 billion nationally in the past fiscal year, an increase of 6.8 percent. The lottery is the only one in the nation that provides entirely for senior programs.
2. Student loan debt for Pennsylvania graduates in 2011 second-highest in the country, with an average $29,959 debt. PA also ranked seventh nationally in percentage of graduates with debt at 70 percent.
3. Face the Facts USA determined that one of every three Americans older than 65 depends on Social Security income to stay above the seniors’ poverty line of $10,788. Without these benefits, the poverty rate among seniors would increase from the current 9 percent to 45 percent.
4. PA Partnership for Children found that only 75 percent of the 1.3 million Pennsylvania children insured through CHIP or Medicaid are appropriately immunized against preventable illnesses such as polio, tetanus or hepatitis. In addition, about one in four do not receive recommended blood tests to screen for lead poisoning.
5. The PA Budget and Policy Center estimates that employment in the Marcellus Shale core industries currently represents one out of every 200 jobs in the state. Meanwhile, private-sector jobs in manufacturing, education and health care account for roughly one out of every three jobs in Pennsylvania, a ratio that is essentially unchanged since before the expansion of Marcellus Shale drilling in the state.
6. According to PaSDC, Pennsylvania is home to 62,200 farms, totaling 7,650,000 acres. While this is 1,000 less farms and 100,000 less acres than the previous year, most products’ values have increased. The state’s top agricultural commodity, milk production, is valued at $2.3 billion (a $400 million increase). The estimated value of crops, including fruits and vegetables, is $3.3 billion (a $100 million decrease) and livestock, poultry and products is $4.3 billion (a $600 million increase).
7. A recent survey of 44 counties in the state found that 89 percent had reduced program and service capacity at the local level; 63 percent eliminated one or more services; and 95 percent reported administrative reductions to decrease impacts to programs and services due to the 10 percent cut in the 2012-2013 state budget.
8. According to the U.S. Labor Department, Pennsylvania is one of six states that recorded unemployment rate increases from December 2011 to December 2012. During this period, the state’s rate rose from 7.7 percent to 7.9 percent while the national average fell from 8.5 percent to 7.8 percent. The rate is less than 7 percent in 25 states.
9. According to a new Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report, more than 100 breweries in 34 counties are operating in Pennsylvania, almost double the number from 2001. An estimated 2 million tourists spent $306 million visiting breweries in the state in 2010.
10. Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry recently reported that the claims workload in November 2012 was 16.3 percent less than in November 2011, but the Unemployment Compensation Service Centers faced a 422 percent increase in phone calls in November 2012. In the last months of 2012, the UCSCs received more than 11.6 million calls in October, more than 15.5 million calls in November and about 6.8 million calls in December. January is typically their busiest month.