House Sets Legislative Priorities for 2014
By Dave Hickernell (R-Lancaster/Dauphin)
April 9, 2014
The state House of Representatives will have an important legislative agenda for the new year with proposals dedicated to improving the budgetary and economic climates in the Commonwealth.

Primarily, I expect us to pass a fourth, on-time, no-tax-increase budget in as many years. The Republican House Majority has ended the borrow-and-spend cycle that typified Pennsylvania budgets for decades. We rejected the easy route that required us to borrow against the futures of our children and instead rolled up our sleeves and did the hard work of constructing and passing three budgets that kept spending at the same level, or less, than the state receives in taxes.

Even as we did that, House Republicans invested a record high of $10 billion total state dollars in K-12 education in the 2013-14 budget. This included significant increases for all Lancaster County schools, thanks in part to a change in the funding formula which now takes into account student populations

No one disputes that our children should have the best education we can provide them with, but we need accountability to go along with all that money. People need to know their tax dollars are being spent wisely. So, in January the House passed two key pieces of legislation to expand school district fiscal transparency.

That is why in January I strongly supported the passage of two pieces of legislation to do just that. The first measure, House Bill 1411, also known as SchoolWATCH, would direct the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to create a searchable online database detailing the revenues and expenditures of traditional, charter and cyber school districts across the Commonwealth.

SchoolWATCH follows the successful model of PennWatch, which was created to allow the citizens of Pennsylvania to see exactly how state agencies use tax dollars. This same method can be very successful for our school districts, encouraging responsible spending, more checks and balances and greater efficiency.

The second measure, House Bill 1741, would amend the Public School Code to require school boards to provide no less than 48 hours public notice prior to voting upon any proposed collective bargaining agreement or employment contract. Spending decisions made by school boards directly impact the lives of every district taxpayer, giving proper public notice will allow taxpayers to hold districts more accountable for the money districts spend. Both bills have been sent to the Senate for further debate.

In addition, we will continue our work to reform the Pennsylvania’s two public pension systems and address the unfunded liability within those two systems. If action is not taken to bring costs under control, school districts may force higher taxes or make deeper cuts to programs and staff. I am in favor of moving to a defined contribution system similar to what is offered in private industry. The solutions currently being discussed are designed to reduce taxpayer risk, eliminate make-believe expectations, and result in a major shift to a defined contribution pension plan.

We will also revisit modernizing Pennsylvania’s antiquated system of liquor and wine sales that is really a state monopoly of the booze business run by unions at the expense of the taxpayers and consumers. Last year, the House passed an excellent piece of legislation that would have accomplished just that. Unfortunately, the proposal is stalled in the Senate. Hopefully, a renewed round of negotiations can breathe life back into an effort that has the overwhelming support of Pennsylvanians.