2015-2016 state budget update
If you are confused about whether or not Pennsylvania has a state budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, you are not alone.
The headlines and stories appearing in the local media can be misleading.
However, on Dec. 29, 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf did sign a state budget.
Unfortunately, instead of signing this budget outright, Wolf cut approximately $6 billion in funding from the final document for various programs and services in an effort to leave room to negotiate for the higher taxes he wants.
These cuts include more than $3 billion from education funding, along with money for important health programs, such as cancer research and trauma centers; funding for vital agricultural services; and personnel support for the state’s correctional institutions.
The final $30.26 billion spending plan given to him in December 2015 funded the core functions of government and increased funding for prekindergarten through grade 12 education by more than $400 million.
And, while the budget would require some new revenue, it would not require the broad-based increases in state income or sales taxes the governor has been demanding.
Those tax increases have been at the heart of the problem during budget negotiations.
The people of Pennsylvania simply cannot afford to have more money taken out of their pockets to finance more government spending.
Members of the Legislature and I have stood our ground on this point, yet the governor keeps insisting we need to implement higher broad-based taxes on our working men and women.
Because of this impasse, the budget stalled for months with many schools and human service agencies struggling to remain open.
The frustrating part is the governor could have signed the balanced budget we sent him on June 30 and vetoed the parts he didn’t like, which would have allowed for further negotiations without jeopardizing schools and critical social services.
Furthermore, Wolf could have also signed the emergency funding package we sent him for schools and human service agencies Sept. 24, 2015.
Instead, he outright vetoed every budget-related bill that came his way until Christmas  and continued to insist on higher income taxes and higher and/or expanded sales taxes.
I am pleased we finally have a signed budget in place; however, there is clearly still work to be done in order to ensure schools and some critical programs, such as child advocacy centers, corrections and hospital-based burn centers, have the funding they need to keep their operations going throughout the year.
Negotiations to restore important areas of funding are ongoing at this time.
Regardless, I count this as a huge step forward and am hoping the governor’s budget address Feb. 9 for the 2016-2017 fiscal year will not continue the call for more broad-based taxes.
Editor’s note: Julie Harhart is the state representative for the 183rd Legislative District, which includes South Whitehall (Districts 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8), Washington and Whitehall townshipd (Districts 1, 7, 10 and 11) and Slatington in Lehigh County, and Allen and Lehigh townships, and North Catasauqua, Northampton and Walnutport in Northampton County.