The finalized state budget package included no new tax increases or fees on taxpayers all while providing record investments in state programs like education, the opioid epidemic, school safety, combatting welfare fraud and more. The total increase in state spending from the prior budget is still below the rate of inflation.
Federal tax cuts for working Pennsylvanians coupled with a robust national economy led to strong revenue returns for state government, hence the early completion to this year’s state budget – the first time that’s been done since 2001.
It is important to know that this budget package is an outlier and contrasts greatly with Gov. Tom Wolf’s first three budgets. For starters, this is the first budget he actually signed and the first budget since 2013 that was completed on time.
Without further reforms, this state budget won’t be repeated in the near future. The bottom line is state government cannot rest on its laurels.
The national economy is humming along. The national unemployment rate is at 3.8 percent, meanwhile Pennsylvania’s remains at 4.5 percent, putting us in a tie for the 39th highest unemployment rate.
Think about this: 38 other states have an employment rate better than Pennsylvania. We should be leading our nation’s economic resurgence, not falling further behind the pack.
Due to the robust national economy, broad-based tax increases and fee hikes on hard-working Pennsylvanians were never on the table this year. But we cannot ignore the last three years of representatives and senators working together to reject Gov. Wolf’s proposed $13 billion in new taxes and fees.
The governor even admitted that a natural gas severance tax is not necessary. It begs the question: are tax increases vital to fund state programs or are tax hikes needed to simply grow state government?
Without any of the governor’s proposed tax increases, the recently approved state budget includes a record $12 billion in investment for K-12 education, including a substantial focus on school safety. The budget also includes over $150 million for the Department of Agriculture to help with our state’s No. 1 industry. Additional funding was also included to help with career and workforce development, home and community-based care for our senior citizens and new resources to combat our heroin and opioid epidemic.
That’s the good news. However, much work remains to be done to put Pennsylvania on sound financial footing.
My commitment to the residents of southern York County is to propose solutions that will allow Pennsylvania to fully harness the benefits of the booming national economy and resolve our state’s systemic fiscal issues.
We have large financial bills that are coming due. Borrowing from both the tobacco settlement fund and school construction reimbursement (PlanCon) will cost us more than $250 million annually, beginning next year.
Both Medicaid and unemployment costs are also set to increase, and the price tag for human services rises annually. Then there is the more than $60 billion unfunded pension liability which continues to grow and threaten the security of our current and future retirees.
I’ve also proposed reducing our state’s massive regulatory burden.
We have over 153,000 regulations on the books, according to the Mercatus Center. That’s why I am leading the effort to curb the growing number of excessive state regulations, similar to what has been done at the federal level over the last two years through executive orders.
House Bill 209
would require the repeal of two state regulations for each one added. Regulatory reform at the federal level has led to a resurgence in American manufacturing.
Small businesses and manufacturers are drowning in excessive state regulations requiring additional paperwork leading to added and unnecessary costs. My proposal passed the House of Representatives in May with bipartisan support and it is now awaiting consideration in the Senate.
The restrained spending increases in this year’s budget should be the precedent for future budget negotiations. That’s why I am co-sponsoring a proposal, known as the Taxpayer Protection Act, to ensure increased growth in state budget spending does not exceed the rate of inflation and population growth. This legislation was approved by the House earlier this session and is awaiting further action in the Senate.
Fourteen pieces of welfare reform legislation also await enactment to help lift people out of poverty, assure the neediest and most vulnerable are cared for, and reduce the largest cost driver in state government.
And finally, we must enact measures that bring greater transparency and accountability to the budgeting process.
President Abraham Lincoln said, “You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” We have taken some important steps to grow Pennsylvania’s economy and must keep fighting for a future that provides economic opportunity and security for our families and generations to come.
Representative Kristin Phillips-Hill
93rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Scott Little