March 2011 Column - Governor’s Budget Proposal is a Good First Step

By Dave Hickernell, state representative
98th Legislative District 

Pennsylvania’s state budget grew 40 percent during the past eight years, from $20.4 billion in 2002-03 to $28.04 billion in 2010-11, an expansion that far exceeds the rate of inflation.  As a result, Pennsylvania government has grown to levels which are unsustainable without serious spending reductions or a major tax increase.   

In addition, Pennsylvania is facing a budget gap of more than $4 billion, an empty Rainy Day Fund, and the expiration of one-time revenue sources that had been used to balance the budget in past years.  State government simply does not have the money to continue spending at its current levels.   

As Gov. Tom Corbett noted in his budget address, “We have to spend less because we have less to spend.”  At $27.34 billion, the governor’s budget reduces state spending to nearly 2008-09 levels.  The plan represents a reduction of $866.3 million or 3.1 percent from last year’s budget.   

Every day, families across Pennsylvania make difficult decisions about what they can afford and what they cannot in order to maintain the financial health of their households.  It is well past time for state government to do the same.  We cannot continue spending beyond our means.  If we are going to weather this financial crisis and return our Commonwealth to a strong financial footing, we need to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse everywhere we find it in state government, and we need to spend less. 

I have some concerns about the governor’s proposal including an increase in funding for the Department of Public Welfare (DPW).  Recent audits have highlighted millions of dollars of fraud and abuse in the department.   Clearly, our welfare system is in need of serious reform.  We need to eliminate the fraud and abuse which costs Pennsylvania taxpayers millions of dollars each year while continuing to ensure that the safety net for those truly in need is maintained. As my colleagues and I consider the governor’s budget proposal, I intend to keep that goal in mind. 

While I understand the need to reduce state spending, I want to ensure that school districts are not forced to pass the proposed reductions along to property taxpayers.  With that in mind, I believe that as we consider this proposed reduction in funding to the schools, we also must consider reforming the school code to free school districts from unfunded state mandates, which drive up costs and result in property tax increases. 

I am pleased the governor’s budget does not contain any new taxes or tax increases.  As our economy begins to show the early signs of recovery, we cannot afford to impose additional taxes on Pennsylvania families and job creators.  In order to keep our Commonwealth on the road to economic recovery, we need to make employers feel comfortable hiring again and we need to enable families to keep more of what they earn.  The governor’s budget accomplishes both of those goals. 

The governor’s budget is a good first step.  But it is just the first step.  It is up to the Legislature to examine the governor’s proposal and to come to an agreement on a plan.  There is much disagreement over which programs should be cut and by how much, but there is near universal agreement that cuts must be made.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to craft a plan that reflects the financial realties we are facing. 

State Representative Dave Hickernell
98th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact:  Sean Yeakle
[email protected]