2017-18 State Budget News
Standing Up For Taxpayers 
   
As the 2017-18 state budget comes to a close, I wanted to provide an update. This budget cycle was one of the toughest I’ve witnessed. Revenue was not meeting projections, mandated costs were continuing to climb and the parties couldn’t agree on where to get the revenue.

House Republicans identified $300 million in money that agencies have not used in years. These special fund transfers were used to fill the gap with money we already had available without compromising programs that benefit Pennsylvanians.

The securitization of a portion of the Tobacco Settlement Fund is a solution to a one-time problem caused by Gov. Tom Wolf continuing to spend, and Treasurer Joe Torsella continuing to issue checks when the revenues were not keeping up with the Budget Secretary’s official projections.

Thanks to the efforts of House Republican members, the Tax Code included no new or increased broad-based taxes. Of the tax changes made, the online retail tax only obligates the online retailers to do what all other retailers do – collect the appropriate sales tax and remit to the state. As to the fireworks provisions, the code allows new products to be sold and taxed appropriately.

My colleagues and I were determined to meet our needs; we weren’t going to ask for more from you. It was our belief that we should expend all options available before we turn to tax increases.

The Numbers
  • The 2017-18 state budget reaffirms our commitment to providing Pennsylvania’s students with a quality education from the youngest ages through their college years.
    • Increased Basic Education Funding through the Fair Funding Formula by $100 million to $5.995 billion.
    • Restored Gov. Wolf’s Pupil Transportation cut to school districts.
    • Increased early childhood education funding (Pre-K Counts and Head Start) by $30 million to $226.5 million.
    • Increased Special Education Funding by $25 million to $1.122 billion.
    • Set a record high $11.86 billion for PreK-12 education – in fact, with this budget, Republicans will have increased PreK-12 education by $1 billion in two years.
    • Maintained state support for Pennsylvania’s state-related universities and provided a 2 percent increase to the State System of Higher Education with $8.84 million.
    • The success of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology with an increase of $1 million.
Next Steps

With last year’s budget gap closed and this year’s budget cycle coming to a close, we now can look toward our next steps. Next year’s budget debate will begin shortly, with the governor due to deliver his budget address in the early stages of 2018. Pennsylvania needs to do a better job at controlling costs and making sure taxpayer dollars are spent the right way. With an eye toward the future while remembering the past year, there are some budgetary reforms I will urge consideration for as quickly as possible.
  • Mandatory Budgetary Reserve – Require the Secretary of the Budget place funds in budgetary reserve to cover any shortfall in revenue estimates. This would be a step toward making sure we are not spending outside of our means for the state. This is something that EVERY governor previously, regardless of political party, has done. Gov. Schweiker, Rendell, and Corbett. Gov Wolf did not and created a one time budget deficit.
  • Waiver Reform –Take a closer look at waiver requests by departments and make sure that these lapsed funds are being used only when absolutely necessary. Higher levels of review and approval over these waivers would enable a higher level of certainty that taxpayer dollars are spent earnestly.
  • Reforming the Budget Address Process – Every year, the governor is tasked with presenting his budget to the full body of the General Assembly, but typically these outlines lack specific detail. Requiring a general appropriation bill and complimentary code bills, any tax law changes would allow us to work from a piece of legislation – not an abstract idea – on compromise beginning in the early part of the year. Also, creation a database of appropriations by the governor’s Budget Office would help simplify the process and allow us to see if the appropriations suggested are federally funded, what programs they fund, and what laws mandate the spending levels.
  • Addressing the Budget Becoming Law without the Governor’s Signature – Under current law, revenue estimates must be used by the governor to veto any part of the general appropriation bill if revenue estimates are out of balance at the time of signature. Unfortunately, we have become all too familiar with our budget bills becoming law without the governor’s signature. Therefore, some changes in the current statutory language need to be made. If signature is withheld, the onus should fall on the Secretary of the Budget to disapprove or reduce amounts needed to bring spending into balance.