PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 17, 2010 — State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes today urged local community leaders to spread the word about the upcoming battle in the legislature as a looming deficit threatens funding for local programs.
“If you are not out there spreading the word, then you are not doing your job,” Hughes said. “That’s why I called you out here on the Friday before Christmas in the cold. You have to be involved in the front end of this process.”
More than 60 leaders of social service and community organizations gathered on the campus of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia to hear Hughes give details about the mid-year budget figures and what threatens to be a major battle next year over dwindling dollars.
While modest budget growth has replaced two years of shrinking tax revenue, mandated costs, long-ignored problems and the loss of federal stimulus funds will leave the state with a deficit of more than $4 billion.
“The new governor has said he will not raise taxes, that he’s going to do it with cuts,” Hughes said. “I think it’s hard to imagine how that can happen but you should be ready for it.”
Hughes, the Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he is worried that a Republican-controlled legislature and a Republican governor will try to quickly pass steep cuts in local programs before community leaders have a chance to organize a response.
“We need to get together right now. If people don’t speak up and spread the word, it could be too late. Don’t wait until March or April or May when the train has left the station,” he said.
Larry Porter, executive director of the Roxborough YMCA, said he appreciated the opportunity to hear about the budget challenges ahead.
“I was really pleased to get a phone call asking me to come here today,” he said. “It really does put things in perspective. It’s going to be daunting.” The YMCA, Porter said, depends on state funding to help with programs ranging from child care to summer camps.
Howard W. Tucker, of the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement, a Mt. Airy group that provides childcare services throughout the city, said the changing climate in Harrisburg threatens eight years of “relative stability” in services for children.
“I’m very concerned about this budget and the impact it will have on children,” he said. “Today is about getting information and getting organized and getting the word out. Tomorrow, if we don’t prepare our children for kindergarten we’ll be building more prisons.”
Hughes urged local leaders to get organized and get ready before the new governor presents a budget.
“People are not as vocal and engaged as they historically have been,” he said. “That has to change before it’s too late.”
For more information on the upcoming budget process, visit www.senatorhughes.com.