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Dems decry 'assault' on education

| Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011

Pennsylvania Democrats continued their criticism of what they call the Republican-led state government's "assault" on public education.

Gov. Tom Corbett "knew full well it would be devastating to most school districts in Pennsylvania," said state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, during a Wednesday conference call with reporters.

State Democratic leaders also promised to sit down with Mon-Yough lawmakers who are proposing a class action lawsuit against Corbett over reduced state subsidies for fiscal 2011-12.

"No one has reached out to the party, at least not yet," state and Allegheny County party chairman Jim Burn said.

Reps. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, and Marc J. Gergely, D-White Oak, are seeking support for a lawsuit, reportedly aided by House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont.

Commitments so far have come from Clairton City and South Allegheny school districts. Kortz has compared the idea to lawsuits in New Jersey and Colorado against education cuts in those states.

"We would be willing to sit down with Rep. Kortz and Rep. Dermody and Rep. Gergely," Burn said. "Our priorities ... are for the best interest of the future leaders of this commonwealth."

While the final budget restored some cuts proposed by Corbett, area districts still will see less state money for 2011-12.

"You do not see the result of those cuts in the first instance," said Pashinski, who was a school teacher for nearly four decades.

"It takes months and sometimes years to see what happens," the Wilkes-Barre Democrat said. "You see the change in the class size but you do not see the change in the children's development."

Pashinski wants to amend the state budget to tap a $200 million supplemental line item for public schools from what reportedly is an $800 million "rainy day fund" surplus.

He also urged passage of House Bill 1804, which would impose a 5 percent extraction fee on natural gas. HB 1804 was referred last week to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

"That tax could go into a restrictive account, an interest bearing account," Pashinski said, contending that Pennsylvanians have not received one penny of relief in three years of development of the Marcellus shale.

HB 1804 has 23 co-sponsors. It is a proposal for taxing and/or imposing fees on natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania.

Another proposal by state Sen. James R. Brewster, D-McKeesport, would impose a 7 percent tax on the market value of gas, with half of its revenues being earmarked for education.

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