By Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette/Westmoreland)
Need a reason to support the state spending controls outlined in my Taxpayer Protection Act? Look no further than Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2020-21 state budget proposal.
On Tuesday, Feb. 4, Wolf addressed a joint session of the General Assembly, sharing his vision for our Commonwealth’s future. That vision would be more taxes, more debt and more spending…to the tune of more than $2 billion. What’s worse is about HALF of that new spending – more than $900 million – is the result of overspending by the governor in this current fiscal year.
Just to be clear…the state’s economy is performing pretty well these days. Revenue collections for this fiscal year are, so far, over what we estimated when adopting the budget last year. Yet, we started 2020 nearly $1 billion in the hole because our governor is not abiding by the 2019-20 state budget agreed to last summer by him and the majority of House and Senate lawmakers. The budget, by the way, is a LAW. It is not merely a suggestion.
While the Wolf administration is clearly the poster child for why we need spending controls in our state budget, it is certainly not the only administration that liked to spend, spend, spend. And at times, the General Assembly as been just as willing to spend. For the sake of our Commonwealth’s future and the financial well-being of future generations, our budget policies need to change.
First and foremost, we need to enact the Taxpayer Protection Act (House Bill 1316
). Simply put, this bill seeks to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to establish state budget spending limits, based on inflation and population changes, that lawmakers – and the governor – would have to abide by each fiscal year.
Of course, if we again find ourselves with a governor who thinks he can agree to one budget in June and then just spend beyond that budget whenever he feels like it, we may need to take things a step further. Legislation has also been introduced (House Bill 1861
) to amend the constitution to require legislative approval of any spending beyond what is outlined in the approved budget. So the $900 million Wolf has spent beyond the confines of the 2019-20 state budget would have to be approved by the General Assembly as a standalone appropriations bill, rather than being combined with next year’s budget proposal.
Passing a constitutional amendment isn’t easy or quick. The bills have to pass both the House and Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions and then gain approval of the voters in a referendum. So we are, at minimum, 2-3 years away from enactment of these measures. Fortunately, there are other polices we can consider in the meantime that will also help the state’s fiscal condition.
To address the overspending and mismanagement in this year’s budget, House Bill 1988
would require moving more than $2 billion of “special funds” back into the General Fund to eliminate the need to borrow and increase costs.
While we may not be able to avoid the need for additional (or supplemental) spending in all cases because of emergencies or other unexpected issues, we could help minimize those situations by creating a Council on State Finances as outlined in House Bill 1990
. Having an open and transparent dialogue about finances, which should be happening as part of budget negotiations but isn’t, would be a big help to lawmakers as we make key financial decisions.
Similarly, House Bill 1995
would create a Bipartisan Keystone Solvency Operating Commission to study financial decisions that have led to insolvency in other government entities.
There are also two additional constitutional amendment proposals. House Bill 1989
would require all surplus funds generated in the fiscal year be placed into the Rainy Day Fund, while House Bill 1991
would prevent the creation or use of “special funds.”
The bottom line is the money we invest in the state budget is not “our” money or the government’s money. It is YOUR money. You deserve to know how and why it’s being spent. By putting the policies outlined above in place, we would have the checks and balances needed to help reassure you that your money is being invested wisely and not being wasted.
Representative Ryan Warner
52nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia Hippler