Formulating a $31.9 billion budget for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a big undertaking. Putting together our annual budget is an essential part of my job as a state legislator and a responsibility I take very seriously. My philosophy, similar to most household budgets, is to “live within our means.” Simply put, I believe we should not spend more than we have available. In the case of the state, we have revenue that is generated each year in the form of taxes and fees and that is the money we can use to fund the budget. For the past two years I have voted against the spending portion of the state budgets because they came before us without any clear plan to pay for the increased spending.
The route of the $2.2 billion deficit we are now facing is the result of an increase in spending in recent years’ budgets, in addition to revenue plans that did not materialize. Specifically, existing revenue streams did not meet expectations and legislation needed to implement new funding generators did not come to pass. All of this resulted in the state spending significantly more than it had an ability to pay for.
This year, the governor presented his budget proposal in February and we in the House provided our initial budget proposal in April. Both proposals can be considered “initial” proposals because of their early nature ahead of the June 30 deadline. These proposals provided the state Senate ample time to provide their own counter budget proposal. The Senate waited until June 30 to pass its own proposal that can be seen as a “final offer” because the timing of when it passed ultimately provided the House with very little opportunity to review.
There were some good parts to the Senate’s budget proposal that I agree with, such as the prioritization of education funding and the continued use of a funding formula to allocate the new dollars. My colleagues in the House ultimately accepted the Senate’s proposal, while I, in good conscious, could not vote in favor of it without a way to pay for it.
Several weeks after the budget proposal became law, the Senate passed its revenue proposal to pay for the spending plan it originated. The proposal includes borrowing $1.3 billion and using proceeds from the Tobacco Settlement Fund (which funds important health care programs) to pay back the loan with interest. It also included approximately $600 million in the form of new taxes, such as a gross receipts tax on natural gas, electric and telecommunications bills, and a new severance tax. These taxes would ultimately be passed on to consumers. They also proposed a couple of other plans to close out the gap.
Since taking office in 2012, I have always been very mindful of protecting taxpayers. I’ve recently joined with a group of my House colleagues to put together a revenue plan that does not rely on borrowing or implementing new taxes. Even though I voted against the spending portion of the budget, I still feel a responsibility as a legislator to do the best I can to meet our obligation of a balanced budget while protecting taxpayers. I’m hopeful that we will be able to come to a resolution on the 2017-18 [budget] in the near future.