Op-Ed: State Budget

The most significant hurdle to enacting a state budget and relieving the burden on social service agencies stripped of funding is our very own governor.

In March, I sat alongside my colleagues on the bipartisan Senate Appropriations Committee for three weeks of budget hearings and listened to every state department’s financial needs. In the following months, I worked hard to pass a budget that addressed the needs of my constituents and Pennsylvanians.  The General Assembly passed a budget in June, without tax increases, along with an essential pension reform bill and a revised balanced school funding formula. Yet Governor Wolf vetoed it all, including the 70 percent of lines items – many for essential social services – for which there was agreement between the governor and the Pennsylvania legislature.

He then began calling for “compromise.” When we answered his calls, we found the talks to be rather discouraging.  For example, he claimed that the vetoed budget, which included a $100 million increase in basic education, did not provide enough education funding.  When we agreed to increase the funding to his request of $400 million — in return for his approval of a revised pension reform bill — he responded by demanding more money. That’s when I finally grew weary of his calls for “compromise.”

The governor’s budget proposal does not work. He continues to demand an increase in sales and income taxes that would result in $4.7 billion in new taxes for residents and businesses.  His proposal would raise taxes by $12 billion over the next two fiscal years – an additional $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Pennsylvania.

These permanent tax hikes are supposed to be in return for reductions in local property taxes. However, the administration’s own data suggest that under the governor’s proposal, residents in 401 of the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania will end up paying about 150 percent of the taxes they now pay.

In addition, he refuses to acknowledge that the state pension deficit is the leading cause of increased property taxes and is depriving schools of education dollars.

Seven in 10 Pennsylvania school districts reported they plan to raise local property taxes for 2015-16, with rising pension payments the single most common reason for the tax hikes. In the near future, one out of three dollars sent to school districts will be diverted from classrooms to pay the pension liability.

Unfortunately, Governor Wolf has demonstrated that he believes the answer to these problems is taxing and spending more, not reform.

At this point it is impossible to ignore the fact that the budget impasse is being sustained by the governor – not the General Assembly.  Despite this temporary roadblock, my colleagues and I will continue to stand firm against the governor’s demands and continue to follow the voices of our constituents.

CONTACT: Sarah Rasmussen srasmussen@pasen.gov  (215) 541-2388