A New Season in Pennsylvania
While our furry friend from Punxsutawney gave us a frigid reminder that spring is not yet upon us, there is no denying budget season has officially arrived in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf delivered his 2017-18 budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday, Feb. 7, proposing a $32.3 billion spending plan, a 1.8 percent increase over last year. As legislators, we now have the opportunity to open a conversation with the people of Pennsylvania to determine the right path forward for our Commonwealth.
While most speeches are memorable because of something that was said, this year’s budget address may be most memorable for what was not said. As we all remember, the governor’s first two budget proposals called for massive increases in Pennsylvania’s Personal Income and Sales and Use taxes. Pennsylvania’s citizens and taxpayers, through their elected representatives, decidedly rejected these proposals. To his credit, the governor did not call for similar increases in this year’s address and I join local taxpayers in commending him for this decision.
While far from perfect, Gov. Wolf has offered us a good point from which to begin negotiations. Projections show stagnant revenues and increasing costs could leave us with a $3 billion shortfall in the coming fiscal year unless changes are made. To that end, his speech provided some insight into how he proposes to save money over the next 12 months. Included in that proposal is a plan to merge four departments of our state government. I look forward to reviewing this plan in greater detail to see if it will truly streamline services and bring us real cost savings.
Unfortunately, the plan includes a number of troublesome items, such as a proposal to create a new 6.5 percent energy tax. Implementing this tax will increase unemployment in our area without providing a dependable source of tax revenue due to the current economy. The companies in question already pay an impact fee that benefits local counties and municipalities. I would rather see this revenue stay “at home,” and not end up in Harrisburg’s coffers.
Speaking of local government, the governor proposes a new $25 per person fee on municipalities that do not have a local police department, a concept that would raise $63 million. This will create huge budget problems for rural townships across our area. Urban legislators have tried to offer similar proposals in the past, and I am keenly aware that this is not a fee that local communities could easily absorb.
The Legislature now begins the process of analyzing the governor’s proposals, hearing from cabinet officials and working to come forward with our own plans to manage the size and price tag associated with state government. The upcoming House Appropriations Committee hearings will hopefully result in the discovery of additional cost-saving measures we can use to balance the 2017-18 budget.
From a negotiation standpoint, we are starting the budget process in a better frame of mind than we did in the last two years. Nonetheless, significant work lies ahead before we can arrive at a budget that delivers the state services we expect while protecting the taxpayers who foot the bill. I welcome and encourage local citizens’ input as we start this year’s important work.
Questions about this topic or any state-related matter may be directed to my St. Marys district office at (814) 781-6301.
Representative Matt Gabler
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Scott Little
www.RepGabler.com / www.Facebook.com/RepGabler