Senator Lisa Baker’s Comments on Budget Bills and Veto

Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20th) issued the following statement on the State Budget approved by the General Assembly and vetoed by Gov. Wolf:

“With the budget deadline looming and negotiations at a standstill, state legislators acted on a proposed state budget and related pieces such as pension reform.

Few people saw this as an ideal budget or the end of the discussion.  However, this package offers decided advantages, avoiding a full-bore budget crisis and demonstrating what and how much could be accomplished without increasing state taxes.

At over $30 billion, it is the largest budget in Pennsylvania history.  While it does not contain all of the funding restorations and spending additions advocacy groups have been seeking, most taxpayers will find it hard to accept that this level of spending starves state government.

Our belief has been, and many taxpayers have reinforced this view in recent months, that Governor Wolf went too far with his spending proposals and was too heavy in his tax plans, which seemed built around generating more revenue rather than the principles of fair and sensible taxation.

Governor Wolf’s decision to veto the entire budget is unfortunate for a reason that goes beyond considerations of politics and strategy.  Despite some serious budget crises over the years, it has been forty years since a governor vetoed an entire budget.  Many of the programs and spending amounts in the budget are not in dispute.  If the governor had approved the bulk of the budget, as his predecessors did, that would provide assurance to program administrators and service providers and to the individuals and groups who depend on them that there is no uncertainty and no prospect for interruption or disruption.

All parties talk about job creation and economic progress in touting their respective proposals.  A chief contradiction in Governor Wolf’s proposals is that he seems willing to risk good-paying jobs in the gas industry and related enterprises by imposing a heavy severance tax, but he strongly resists seeing state store jobs move into the private sector.  This is indicative of the sort of concerns yet to be resolved.

An essential element of avoiding budget crises in coming years is approving reform of the two statewide pension systems.  We do not agree with the governor’s plan to borrow money and hope for higher investment returns.  It seems a political step, not a long-term structural solution.  Thus, we voted for a more far-reaching restructuring of the state pension plans.

Plans to eliminate or severely reduce property taxes are not linked to the budget cycle.  Property taxes can be acted on anytime sufficient votes to support reform come together.  There is one key point of intersection between the issues – to the extent that state taxes would be raised to support increased spending, that money is not available to replace property tax revenue and thus diminishes the prospects for substantial relief.

If history is a guide, there will be a mix of strident public commentary and behind-the-scenes negotiations until a settlement is reached.  Since this is the first budget for the Wolf Administration, it is impossible to say how long the process will take, or when a settlement will be reached, or which elements will be included in the final package.”

To see Sen. Baker offering floor remarks on the budget:

Contact:       Andrew M. Seder

(570) 226-5960

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