by Dave Hickernell
State Representative, 98th Legislative District
The month of June is a hectic one in Harrisburg. The General Assembly will spend the bulk of its time crafting a budget for fiscal year 2007-08, with the goal of completing the process before the deadline of June 30th deadline.
When you do your own budgeting, you must set your spending priorities and decide what items are essential, and what items can be done without. Putting together a spending plan for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is very similar.
There is one big exception. The money the Legislature spends is yours, not ours. As we look at available funds, we must put together the best possible spending plan for the majority of Pennsylvanians. Considering what has transpired so far in the House of Representatives, the Republicans’ idea of what is best differs significantly from the plan put forth by Gov. Ed Rendell and embraced by the Democrat Majority. The Democrats apparently do not have a problem with continuing to raise taxes on hard-working Pennsylvanians, and failing to hold spending at a reasonable rate.
On May 22, House Republicans put forth a counter proposal to Gov. Rendell’s plan. The Republican alternative would have adequately funded state programs and balanced the budget without a tax increase. It would have started the negotiating process by spending nearly a half a billion dollars less than the governor’s plan. This represents a modest 1.97 percent increase over last year, a percentage that is below the rate of inflation, and still puts money in the Rainy Day Fund to be used to avoid future tax increases.
The Republican proposal addressed all mandated funding, continued the commitment to priority programs and supported essential program growth needs. Many programs that the governor sought to cut or eliminate, such as agricultural research, crop insurance and local soil and water districts, would have been restored under our alternative plan.
Unfortunately, the governor’s budget does not address the crime-fighting needs of the Attorney General’s office. The House Republican budget made sure that necessary funds were available for the agency’s anti-crime programs and supported drug law enforcement and child predator units.
The vote on the Republican plan failed to pass as the vote went along party lines, with the Democrats saying “no”. The next day, the House voted on the governor’s budget blueprint. The Democrat majority ruled again, and a budget proposal which includes five new taxes and two tax increases headed to the State Senate.
The Senate is now faced with a budget that would require an increase in the state sales tax for the first time in 39 years. The Senate is being asked to consider hiking the cigarette tax, and placing a tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco products.
In addition, the Senate has been sent a budget proposal that taxes your usage of electricity. It places tipping fees on waste haulers, a practice that will no doubt be passed along to you in your garbage bill. The governor’s budget proposal will also show up when you fill up your gas tank. Attorney General Tom Corbett, whose office will be policing a proposed gross profits tax on oil companies, said it is hard to believe that the tax will not be passed along to consumers at the gas pumps, putting an added strain on the cost of driving your vehicle. If all this isn’t enough, the governor’s Democrat-approved budget plan also places a 3 percent payroll tax on employers who do not offer health insurance to their employees.
My opposition to raising taxes made my votes in favor of the alternative budget and against the governor’s spending plan easy ones to cast. Unfortunately, the Democrats had their way this time around. It will now be up to the Senate to say “no” to the governor’s tax and spend budget and hopefully send a more reasonable budget back to the House.
This could be a very interesting summer from a budget standpoint. My goal in the weeks ahead will be to work toward a budget that takes care of the needs of the citizens of Pennsylvania in a fiscally responsible manner
Rep. Dave Hickernell
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
House Republican Public Relations