By State Sen. Pat Stefano
On June 30 bipartisan majorities of both the state Senate and House sent Gov. Tom Wolf a budget that will avoid the long and damaging budget impasse of last year caused by the governor’s insistence on broad-based tax increases on Pennsylvanians.
I voted in favor of this budget because it provided $200 million in new funding for our schools, it provided much needed funding to combat the opioid crisis in our communities and did not subject our school districts, county agencies and nonprofits to another year of having to borrow money just to stay open and then figure out how to pay off the interest.
All of this can be achieved without the broad-based tax increase that Gov. Wolf originally proposed. We were successful in cutting $1.7 billion, or 56 percent of his increase, from the governor’s proposed budget. This is a major victory for working families who are already struggling to make ends meet.
This budget is not perfect by any stretch. While it increases spending by $1.4 billion, over 60 percent of this is mandated by our pension obligations and federal mandates. When it comes to discretionary spending this budget raises it by just 1.8 percent.
With those kinds of mandated costs we must address the biggest cost driver of our budget: the pension crisis. The House passed an amended version of the Senate’s pension reform bill. Unfortunately this bill does not do enough to shift the burden away from the taxpayer and does not offer the kind of immediate relief that the Senate proposal would provide. The Senate has called for a conference committee to negotiate the differences between the two proposals and come up with a plan that alleviates the extreme pressure to increase spending being caused by the unsustainable pension system.
Since I joined the Senate, I have been asking the question of how we are evaluating the effectiveness of our spending. I have asked what other states have been doing to judge their programs. This is often called evidence based decision making. To that end, the Senate adopted my Senate Resolution 294 which tasks the Joint State Government Commission to study what data we and other states are collecting to evaluate the effectiveness of government programs and make recommendations on areas that this could be implemented in Pennsylvania.
It is important that we spend the next 10 months finishing pension reform and reassess our current spending. As part of the Taxpayers Caucus we have identified over $3 billion in savings and revenue. As you can see, I have been an active part in attempting to address the severe financial pressure that Pennsylvania finds itself in.
A completed budget should not be a sign to take a two- month vacation. Rather, we must recommit ourselves to reigning in the costs of state government so that we don’t have to continue to threaten our constituents and job creators with increased taxes year after year.
State Sen. Pat Stefano represents the 32nd District in the state Senate, which includes all of Fayette and Somerset counties and part of Westmoreland County.