HARRISBURG — Lancaster County Senators Ryan Aument (R-36) and Scott Martin (R-13) today pledged to review Governor Wolf’s $32.3 billion budget proposal with an eye toward promoting government efficiency and savings to taxpayers.
The budget would increase state spending by $571 million over the current year’s total. In sharp contrast to Governor Wolf’s first two budget proposals, this year’s spending request did not include a massive proposed increase in the Personal Income Tax or the Sales and Use Tax.
“I was pleased to see that after two years, Governor Wolf has finally come to the same conclusion the overwhelming number of Pennsylvanians and businesses already knew – that we need to better manage costs, promote efficiencies and restructure government – not raise broad-based taxes,” Senator Aument said. “With some exceptions, this budget proposal is a much better starting point to begin the difficult work of finding a way to fund state government for the 2017-18 fiscal year.”
“Although the growth in state spending from year to year is a cause for concern, I appreciate the fact that Governor Wolf has made an effort to explore potential ways to save money in certain parts of the budget,” Senator Martin said. “The Governor’s ideas deserve a closer look, and I hope we can work together to identify more ways to save money and avoid saddling local residents with higher taxes.”
Both Senators expressed disappointment that the budget plan did not fully address the Commonwealth’s public employee pension crisis. Unfunded liabilities in the state’s two largest pension systems have grown to more than $70 billion, and scheduled payments to both systems increased by $288 million this year alone.
“Pensions are one of the biggest cost-drivers in the budget, and without decisive action to confront this problem, the burdens on taxpayers will only continue to grow,” Senator Aument said. “Senate Republicans have led the way toward meaningful pension reform over the past several years. It’s time for the Governor to get serious about working with lawmakers to fix this problem in a way that is fair for retirees, employees and taxpayers.”
“If Governor Wolf genuinely wants to transform state government, that transformation needs to start with addressing the parts of the budget that are putting the greatest strain on taxpayers,” Senator Martin said. “We can’t ignore the pension problem and hope it goes away. Pension reform needs to be extremely high on our agenda so we can take a bite out of the costs that have been hurting schools and devouring every new dollar of state revenue for the past several years.”
A portion of the savings in Governor Wolf’s proposed budget comes from the consolidation of the departments of Aging, Health, Human Services and Drug and Alcohol Programs into a single entity. It is unclear how the departments would be merged, the number of positions that would be eliminated and the programs and services that would be impacted.
“There is certainly no harm in exploring the possibility of consolidation in order to reduce the administrative costs of government, but saving a few million in terms of personnel and office space does very little to offset the hundreds of millions in new dollars requested by the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services each year,” Senator Martin said. “Finding ways to rein in the long-term costs of Medicaid alone would save far more than even the rosiest projections of cost savings that could ever be achieved through agency consolidation.”
“Discussion about consolidating state agencies cannot take the place of a real debate on how to address the most serious and expensive problems plaguing some of these departments. We need to take a hard look at how we can make the delivery of services more efficient and effective while ensuring there is proper oversight and accountability at every stage of the process,” Senator Aument said. “Consolidating agencies should be part of the conversation, but it can’t be the only step we take to cut costs.”
Senator Aument noted that the Governor’s proposal significantly reduces the Department of Agriculture’s budget by 24 percent. “I continue to be amazed at the lack of support Governor Wolf shows Pennsylvania agriculture, which drives so much of the Commonwealth’s and Lancaster County’s economy,” said Senator Aument. “Also, given the challenges that my local farmers are facing with stringent federal Chesapeake Bay water quality standards, these cuts could not come at a worse time.”
The budget includes approximately a billion dollars in new taxes, including new taxes on custom programming, design and data processing, commercial storage, airline purchases, aircraft sales and natural gas.
“While the Governor’s approach to this budget is absolutely an improvement on his previous efforts, I still have deep reservations about any plan that asks taxpayers to fork over even more money to fund state government,” Senator Martin said. “I am hopeful that we can dig deeper into the budget and identify more savings to prevent the need for any new taxes. Addressing cost-drivers like Medicaid and pensions should take priority over any proposal that increases taxes on families and job-creators.”
Senator Aument also expressed frustration with the Governor’s prioritization of funding in the Department of Education. “Why would Governor Wolf propose to give bureaucrats a nearly 10 percent increase and our school kids through the basic education line item only a 1.7 percent increase?” said Senator Aument. “We don’t need more government employees in Harrisburg to make a world class education system. I would much rather direct this funding to classrooms where these dollars can be put to better use.”
VIDEO (Martin): https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/vb37ipdavx
AUDIO (Martin): Listen
VIDEO (Aument): https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/089re34rrk
AUDIO (Aument): Listen
CONTACT: Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420 (Senator Aument)
Terry Trego, (717) 787-6535 (Senator Martin)