HARRSIBURG – Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20th District, issued the following statement regarding Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address:
“With so much unsettled in terms of spending, taxes, and how and when money will be distributed, this budget address is unlike any other in Pennsylvania’s experience. Having to draw up a new budget when billion-dollar holes remain in the current budget is a challenge of unprecedented proportion.
No one expected that Governor Wolf would back away from the priorities he voiced during the campaign and tenaciously pursued during his first year. But his aggressive plans for funding state government and the tax increases necessary to pay for them failed to garner sufficient support among legislators or taxpayers. So people were hoping that he would show something different in his spending and taxing plans this time in order to obtain broader agreement. Vetoing an entire budget and then holding back money for crucial services to increase political leverage were moves that failed communities, service providers, and those who depend on state services. Neither confrontation nor negotiation has produced an acceptable result despite a year of nonstop effort, so the governor needs to tap a new pool of leadership skill and finesse.
Sharp splits among legislators over priorities and approaches have to be ironed out. Immediate problems require fixes – the cuts the governor made when he signed a reduced budget in late December are causing disruption and dislocation in our communities, critical access hospitals being a local example, and shortfalls in education funding are going to make school budgeting a bigger nightmare.
How state money gets distributed is every bit as contentious as the amount of money. The way the education money is being dispersed is detrimental to area schools. While the governor vetoed money everyone agrees should be allocated, we find it necessary to hold a hearing into releases of money that lack legislative authorization. Such actions move us farther from the cooperation and trust needed to put a full, sustainable budget back together again.
Budget-related issues must not be shoved aside. Nothing taking place in the budget or in the economy alleviates the need for pension reform. Without reform, pension costs will continue to crowd out other spending needs at the state level and continue to drive up unpopular property taxes at the local level. If this budget dispute is truly to be solved with the taxpayer interest in mind, then a responsible plan for reducing or eliminating property taxes must be part of the agreement. Homeowners want property tax relief to be the first item paid for by any increase in state taxes.
It is sensible and responsible to say we should quickly resolve the unfinished business from last year, before we begin fairly evaluating the requests for the coming fiscal year. How deep and broad the inclinations are for settling seem still to be determined. Unfortunately, rather than building consensus, the rhetoric contained in the governor’s budget address only pushes everyone apart.”
Andrew M. Seder