Op-ed: Lawmakers will weigh Wolf’s spending plan during budget hearings

Governor Wolf recently outlined his spending priorities and tax proposals as part of the 2017-18 budget address to the General Assembly. Although this speech is only the first step in a long process of study and negotiation, I appreciate the fact that the governor gave us a starting point that includes no increases in broad-based taxes – a serious sticking point with lawmakers and the public in the previous two budgets.

Over the next several weeks, the Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a series of public hearings with members of the Wolf Administration to dig deeper into the budget and ask questions about individual programs and line items. As a member of this panel, I look forward to speaking with heads of the various departments and agencies to determine which programs are providing the greatest benefit to taxpayers, as well as the programs that may not be worth the investment of public dollars.

Lawmakers and the governor must grapple with a deficit of approximately $3 billion this year. This deficit results primarily from the unchecked growth of some of the state’s most expensive line items, including escalating public employee pension costs and growth in Medicaid spending. Governor Wolf is proposing to plug that hole mostly through the use of one-time revenues and the sale of state assets, rather than addressing the costs that continue to rise year after year.

If we fail to address the major cost-drivers in the budget, we are almost certain to end up in the same position next year, or worse — a huge deficit, fewer assets available to sell, and greater financial challenges to overcome. Achieving a balanced, responsible and sustainable budget requires us to make tough choices regarding how to rein in the costs of pensions and Medicaid. In addition, we need to examine how all state-funded services are structured and delivered in order to reach a compromise that is fair both to taxpayers and the people who rely on these programs and services.

We faced similar challenges when I served as a Lancaster County Commissioner, and we tackled those problems with an eye toward promoting both short-term and long-term savings to the taxpayer, including a stronger focus on how we can deliver services more efficiently and effectively. I am hopeful that we can work with Governor Wolf to achieve similar results at the state level.

<strong>CONTACT:</strong> Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

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