Recently, our colleague, Rep. Kevin Schreiber detailed in an op-ed the “noble efforts” of Gov. Tom Wolf to compromise on a final budget. In what turned out to be a fanciful version of current events, our colleague left out a few important details.
Wolf began the budget process by announcing the largest tax increase in the history of our Commonwealth. Under this budget, Pennsylvania residents would see a $12.7 billion tax increase over two years. Despite the massive tax increase, Wolf admitted his budget would result in a deficit within two years.
Although Republicans had serious disagreements with the Wolf budget, we brought it up for a vote. Surprisingly, when our colleagues across the aisle had a chance to match their rhetoric with action they unanimously rejected the funding for the governor’s plans. This includes his severance tax which dedicates zero money for education. Perhaps our colleague was influenced by the non-partisan analysis from the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO). In their report, the IFO determined Wolf’s budget would result in higher taxes for all Pennsylvanians.
Since the governor’s budget had no support from either party, Republicans began the process of ensuring the Commonwealth had a budget which was on time. Compromising with the administration, the budget we proposed contained nearly 70 percent of the funding requested by the governor. Our budget also increased funding beyond the governor’s proposals for 100 budget items including long-term care for seniors.
However, the decision by the governor to veto the entire budget means the state has no legal authority to move money to help provide senior care, assistance to domestic violence victims and assistance to other Pennsylvanians in need.
As my colleague alluded, there were areas in which our budget differed from the governor’s plan. Namely, our budget invested $5.3 billion to reimburse school districts owed to them by the Commonwealth. On top of this $5.3 billion, Republicans increased state funding for education by $370 million.
Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the budget which provided billions to school districts in favor of only providing them with millions. This “historic investment” from the governor is actually distributed unfairly as 32 percent of the new funding goes to Philadelphia. The vetoed education school code would have distributed educations dollars by the bipartisan fair education funding formula.
My colleague failed to mention Wolf’s property tax proposal is very similar to his education funding. After bringing in $6.7 billion from increasing the Personal Income Tax, the governor only provides $3.1 billion in property tax relief. In fact, 404 out of 500 school districts will pay more in taxes than they see in relief.
Although my colleague repeatedly mentions the downgrading of the Commonwealth’s credit rating he neglects to explain the downgrade was due to the failure of the Legislature to pass pension reform last year. Republicans worked to craft a plan to reform our pensions and prevent future credit downgrades. Under our plan, taxpayers would save $10 billion while current employees and retirees kept their benefits. Even though the Republican plan would include all current legislators and was nearly identical to the benefits the governor provided to his own employees in the private sector, he vetoed the bill.
Throughout his op-ed my colleague failed to move past partisan rhetoric, the most notable of these was his mischaracterization of liquor privatization. Currently, the state system brings in only $80 million, but this number will decrease rapidly from growing pension costs to the point where taxpayers will need to pay into the liquor system to keep it afloat. Just this week the Liquor Control Board increased handling fees to preserve the failed system by taxing consumers more.
Our plan, supported by a majority of Pennsylvanians, removes the state from selling alcohol and ends the practice of “border bleed,” where the state loses $120 million as Pennsylvanians buy alcohol from a different state. By selling off the state stores, ending border bleed and increasing alcohol and sales tax revenue, our proposal would raise $225 million. In comparison, the proposal supported by my colleague and Wolf would lead to higher prices for Pennsylvanians. These higher prices are necessary, under their plan, in order to increase state revenue and pay for a $3 billion pension bond instead of passing real pension reform.
John Adams once said “facts are stubborn things,” a statement which has proven accurate during this current budget shutdown. Through the legislative process, Republicans have protected taxpayers and compromised on nearly 70 percent of the budget, on a bipartisan education funding formula and even on something controversial like pension reform. It is time for the governor to move past campaign rhetoric. The campaign is over. Now is the time to govern.
By Reps. Seth Grove (R-York), Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), Paul Schemel (R-Franklin), Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), Kate Klunk (R-York), Ron Marsico (R- Dauphin), and Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon).