State budget issues
AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS Kathy Rooney, an employee of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania holds a sign during a breakout rally in front of the Carbon County Assistance Office in Lehighton on Friday afternoon. She, as well as some of her co-workers gave up their lunch break to participate in a statewide rally for a fair state budget that they feel doesn't put the financial burden on the middle class.
State employees who serve Carbon County picketed Friday afternoon, voicing their concerns against current state budget proposals, which call for cuts to service programs and education.
Employees of the Carbon County Assistance Office in Lehighton, who are members of SEIU Local 668, a statewide union, conducted the rally during their lunch break.
The rally also targeted budget proposals aimed at union contracts, which as proposed, cut state employee salaries by 4 percent, takes away some personal and sick time, raises the cost of health benefits and more. The state contracts for SEIU Local 668 employees, as well as 15 other state workers contracts, expire on June 30.
According to Kathy Rooney, an employee of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Friday's breakout rally occurred at various offices across the state. The reason for the rallies was to show support for the negotiations between the unions and legislators that were occurring in Harrisburg on Friday.
She added that the employees are asking for Gov. Tom Corbett to pass a fair budget that does not put the majority of the burden on the middle class.
"There are other ways they can make it up," Rooney said.
Joshua McCartney, a state employee, echoed Rooney's thoughts.
He noted that the current proposed budget will hurt the middle class.
"All we are seeking is a fair budget that does not put the burden completely on the middle class," McCartney said. "They need to spread everything out so everyone shares the burden."
He added that the state is asking employees to take salary cut, as well as cut back on personal and sick days, and pay more for their health benefits.
"Times are tough," McCartney said. "It's not fair for employees to have to roll back their salaries to 2008 levels. We have families to feed and bills to pay as well."
Rooney added that the state employees had taken pay freezes over the last few years to help balance the budget.
Employees at the Carbon County Assistance Office will be taking part in breakout sessions, such as picketing, making phone calls and writing letters to the legislators, throughout the month of June in an attempt to raise awareness on the budget issues.
"We're going to let them know how we feel," McCartney said, adding that Gov. Corbett should consider taxing Marcellus shale to help solve the deficit. "The middle class is not the answer to the deficit problem."
Rooney said she wasn't sure what would happen next if no agreement is reached between the unions and state by June 30.
The Carbon County Assistance Office, located at 101 Lehigh Drive, Lehighton, is a local office of the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare. It is in charge of determining eligibility and administering state and federally funded benefits including the SNAP program, formerly known as Food Stamps; Medical Assistance; Cash Assistance; and LIHEAP (Energy Assistance).