February 2010 Column - Last Year’s Budget Impasse Cannot Happen Again
By Dave Hickernell, State Representative
98th Legislative District
On Feb. 9, Gov. Ed Rendell delivered his annual budget address to the Legislature. I was pleased to hear the governor say Pennsylvanians expect all of us to avoid the kind of long impasse we saw last year. That impasse, which resulted in the Commonwealth beginning the current fiscal year without a budget, meant Pennsylvanians who rely on programs funded through the state budget including college students, public schools, day care services, families of children with special needs, and Pennsylvania’s hospitals were unable to get the services they need.
We simply cannot permit that kind of impasse to occur again. While we may differ on how we spend our resources, we cannot allow those differences to cloud our vision and make us lose site of the fact that the decisions we make have a very real impact on the lives of millions of Pennsylvanians. It is my hope that as the budget process moves forward, we will keep those Pennsylvanians in mind and negotiate in good faith to ensure the budget process is completed by the June 30 deadline.
That being said, I have some concerns about the governor’s spending plan. I am particularly troubled by the plan’s $29 billion price tag which is a $1.2 billion spending increase over the current budget. Pennsylvania finished the last fiscal year with a $3.25 billion shortfall. In other words, we spent $3.25 billion more than we had last year. This year, revenues are already $374 million below estimates and that number is likely to grow by the end of the year. When we are spending more than we have, the answer is to spend less, not to increase spending even more.
I am also concerned that the governor is relying on $1 billion in tax increases – including an expansion of the state sales tax to previously untaxed items – to pay for his spending. Pennsylvania families are struggling to make ends meet every month. A tax increase would be the last straw for many of them. Similarly, Pennsylvania employers are doing their best to weather the worst economic recession in years. If we make it even more expensive for them to do business in Pennsylvania, they will leave and take thousands of job with them.
In addition to his tax increases, the governor is also counting on $800 million in stimulus funds from the federal government. Congress has not approved these funds and there is no guarantee that we will ever see them. Even if the funds are approved, they will be a one-time influx of cash. When they run out in 2011-12, taxpayers will be left holding the tab for the large spending obligation they leave behind.
In the coming years, our Commonwealth is likely to face some difficult financial hardships, including a serious public pension funding crisis. While I do not agree with every aspect of the governor’s budget proposal, I am pleased to see his plan recognizes the challenges which lie ahead.
I look forward to working with the governor and my colleagues in the Legislature to pass a compromise budget with which we can all live by the June 30 deadline.
Rep. Dave Hickernell
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Sean Yeakle
House Republican Public Relations