Lancaster County House Republican Delegation Issues Statement on 2014-15 State Budget
HARRISBURG – The Lancaster County Republican Delegation tonight voted with the majority of their colleagues to approve a $29.1 billion state spending proposal which increases K-12 education spending to its highest level ever and maintains the core functions of government without raising taxes.
However, the delegation, which includes State Reps. Ryan Aument (R-West Hempfield), Bryan Cutler (R-Peach Bottom), Gordon Denlinger (R-Narvon), Mindy Fee (R-Manheim), Keith J. Greiner (R-Upper Leacock), Dave Hickernell (R-West Donegal), and Steve Mentzer (R-Lititz), stressed in a joint statement that tonight’s passage of the state spending plan does not overshadow the delegation’s deep disappointment that many important issues were left unresolved, chief among them being the lack of meaningful progress on reforming the state pension system, which continues to grow future liabilities that could bankrupt the state if left unaddressed:
“In the current budget, the state is spending nearly $1.4 billion on school employees’ retirement. Those payments, coupled with unsustainable increases to pension obligations at the school district level, are consuming far too many scarce taxpayer resources. Lancaster County House Republicans have all agreed to advance commonsense changes to public pensions in order to address the nearly $50 billion in liabilities that remain in the system.
“However, there are those in Harrisburg, including special interest groups, which continue to block any meaningful or substantive changes. We share the frustration of our constituents and will work do whatever it takes this summer and fall to advance meaningful pension reform, liquor privatization, mandate relief for our school districts and reform a culture in Harrisburg that protects the status quo.”
Individually, delegation members weighed in on different aspects of the new state spending plan.
As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Denlinger said that while this year’s budget is a reflection of the current economic situation across Pennsylvania, the committee was able to keep spending below that specified in the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.
“In the 2014-15 fiscal year, state government is being asked to do more with less revenue, much like working families have been doing through these difficult economic times,” Denlinger said. “But, even with the fiscal constraints, we were able to ensure that the budget prioritizes several key investment areas that reflect the issues that are critical to Lancaster County, including increased funding for education and agriculture.”
Hickernell, who strongly supported the creation of the Special Education Funding Commission which developed a new special education funding formula, said the inclusion of the new formula in this year’s budget will drive new money to school districts based on their actual special education needs.
“For the first time in six years, we increased funding for special education students and not only appropriated an additional $20 million for this purpose, we were also able to include a new funding formula to ensure that money will be prioritized to schools that have higher populations of special education students versus schools that have lower populations of special needs students,” Hickernell said. “With about one out of every 6.5 students receiving special education services in Pennsylvania, there are school districts in Lancaster County in dire need of these additional funds, and now they will be receiving them.”
Aument remarked on the budget’s overall commitment to education in Pennsylvania, marking the fourth straight year Republicans have increased basic education funding to record levels.
“Ensuring our children have a solid educational foundation on which to build a successful future is important, which is why 35 percent of the entire state budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year is dedicated to K-12 education. In addition, it includes $200 million for the new Ready to Learn Block Grant program, which gives school districts great flexibility to leverage new funding. Approved uses include customized, individualized hybrid learning initiatives for which I have advocated,” Aument said. “It should also be noted this year’s budget includes a $2 million increase for Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, which will help the school to continue successfully preparing students to enter the 21st century workforce.”
Greiner stressed that with Pennsylvania’s economy beginning to improve, even as the national economy remains sluggish, it was important that the General Assembly hold the line on taxes and demonstrate fiscal restraint.
“In May, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent, the lowest rate since September 2008, and total jobs in the private sector are at an all-time high,” Greiner said. “The formula for economic growth has not changed since President John F. Kennedy campaigned on the slogan of ‘getting America moving again’ and proposed lower taxes. When government only spends to the amount it takes in and allows taxpayers to keep more of their own money, the economy improves.”
Fee, whose district includes the farm responsible for making Lancaster County the first in the nation to reach 100,000 acres of preserved farmland, lauded the budget’s commitment to the state’s No.1 industry.
“Those who work in Lancaster County’s No.1 industry – agriculture – can be encouraged that overall ag funding was one of the few sections of the budget to actually see a small increase. Funds for farmland preservation remain intact and untouched. The various “Ag Excellence” programs – which work to enhance the profitability of various sectors of Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry – received a remarkable increase. This type of investment helps our ag industry leaders to spur further growth opportunities, and ensure the ongoing viability of the jobs created by farming, food production and all related agri-businesses.”
Cutler and Mentzer noted the importance of the boosts for human service programs at the county level.
“This budget includes a $39.8 million increase to benefit people with intellectual disabilities in the form of the Community Waiver Program. This program is a flexible and dynamic system of support that is tailored to the needs of individuals living in their own homes,” added Cutler. “As a former health care professional, I know how critical these services are to county residents and I am happy to see this increased funding.”
“The additional funding for human services in this budget protects our most vulnerable citizens by increasing funding for individuals with intellectual disabilities and for domestic violence and rape crisis centers,” Mentzer said. “Even in this challenging budget year, we have an obligation to assist those in the greatest need. Support for these centers, as well as sending more money for child welfare at the county level, demonstrates our commitment to those who need our help.”
Lancaster County House Republican Delegation
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Charles Lardner