The Pennsylvania Budget
After four years of on-time budgets that held the line on personal income taxes, the Wolf administration is holding our school children hostage in his campaign to raise the income tax and expand the sales tax to new items.
I am flat-out opposed to any tax increases. Fifteen years ago, the state budget was $20 billion. This year, it will pass the $30 billion mark. Even with inflation factored in, I doubt the incomes of Pennsylvania’s working families have gone up by 50 percent in that time. We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem. And you don’t cure a spending problem by spending more.
The general assembly twice sent Gov. Wolf balanced budgets that included hundreds of millions of dollars for public schools. The governor’s response was to veto the budget, and then veto the stopgap spending bill. On the third time around, with schools on the verge of closing, he issued a line-item veto designed to allow school funds to run out before years end, so he could force the general assembly to pass an 11 percent increase in the income tax.
It took nine months and multiple tries before House members split from the party line and pushed a budget through to passage.
Nobody I know received an 11 percent salary increase in the past year. This is just another case of a tax-and-spend liberal digging deep into other people’s pockets to reward the special interests that elected him.
There is simply a time we have to say “no” to tax increases and this is one of them. Right now, government employees are living better than most of the people they tax to pay for their perks and privileges.
No tax increase.
Pennsylvania is losing jobs. General Electric is laying off nearly 1,000 people. Joy Manufacturing cut 400 jobs in Franklin. The story is the same across the state, where our 9.9 percent corporate net income tax -- arguably the highest in the nation -- discourages big companies from locating to Pennsylvania. And, among small businesses that file using the state's personal income tax rate, the threat of a retroactive income tax increase is freezing job creators in their tracks.
We need an economic growth policy that respects the role of business, allows working people to keep more of their paychecks, and acknowledges that sometimes government needs to keep out of the way.
One example is the domino-like effect of regulations.
When General Electric announced that it would be laying off nearly 1,000 Erie workers and moving locomotive production to Texas, our current senator said he was keeping in close contact with the company about the situation. What nobody did was connect the dots on how this sort of job loss happens.
The locomotives built at the Erie plant were made, for the most part, to haul coal. Extreme environmental special interests – including people with investments in government subsidized alternative power companies – have made it their mission to close down coal powered electrical generating stations. So far, they’ve pushed 190 plants off-line. The leader in this movement is the Sierra Club and the Sierra Club has been a financial supporter of the incumbent state senator, and endorsed him for election four years ago.
You can’t say you’re for jobs at the GE Plant in Erie while doing the bidding of the very people who helped to destroy so many of those jobs. You’re with the working people, or you’re with the crowd that won’t rest until the Pennsylvania fuel that produces 40 percent of our electricity is driven from the market.
EPA regulations currently force our manufacturers to ship jobs to China, where companies use coal for power, and then make the products we should be manufacturing on our own soil. The result: American jobs are lost to a place where coal is burned with no regulations at all.
It is universally understood that Pennsylvania has a serious public K-12 education problem. Our current legislators have been unable to find a solution because they worry more about re-election than solving the tough problems facing Pennsylvania.
Another part of the dilemma stems from the increasing reliance on our public schools as social service agencies. Schools today are not only expected to teach -- they provide breakfasts, medical help, social outreach, and violence intervention. Teachers should not have to be substitute parents.
Student performance, SAT scores, and overall satisfaction with the system have been stagnant or have declined. Eleven schools in Erie County are listed as “low achieving” and statewide, the gap between suburban and urban districts is widening.
At the same time, the state’s share of subsidy to our public schools has fallen from 54 percent in 1972 to 30 percent three years ago, meaning that local districts are left to take up the slack with property taxes.
Something is seriously out of balance here. Education was once intended to prepare our young people to be productive, independent citizens.
I propose reforms that both address the funding inequity and refocus our priorities on making certain that education and subject mastery remain the core focus of our public school system.
The education funding formula has undergone multiple revisions since the days the state provided half of the funds. At the same time, district costs have risen and pension debt has expanded.
- An equitable, understandable formula by which the state determines a district’s subsidies.
- A renewed focus on the core obligations of our schools.
- A way to rein in spiraling education costs.
- A return to a larger state share of funding to relieve burdens on taxpayers.
- A restoration of parental involvement in the system.
These are goals that will have my attention in Harrisburg. There are no easy solutions to complex problems, but without effort, those problems will only worsen.
Our children deserve better.
The History of School Funding in Pennsylvania 1682-2013, P. 53
In the past two years, Pennsylvanians have seen a state treasurer plead guilty to extortion and resign, and a state attorney general charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. Something seems to happen to career politicians when they stay too long in Harrisburg. Instead of rooting out corruption, they look the other way.
Unfortunately, our state senators have to do the right thing. After losing her law license, Attorney General Kathleen Kane should have been removed from office under the state’s Constitutional provision that permitted such an action. Even Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf agreed.
But partisanship won over good government, and the incumbent senator joined the group of political insiders who blocked the effort to get the needed two-thirds majority to remove Kane. The consequence is that Pennsylvania now has an attorney general who is not licensed to practice law.
This simply won’t do. We need leaders in Harrisburg who will represent our values, not protect their political cronies.
Right now, members of the state senate receive more than their salary – and it's time taxpayers put an end to these undeserved perks and extras.
Does your boss buy you a car to drive to and from work? No. You buy your own car. But, taxpayers in Erie are financing a late-model lease car for members of the senate. I will say no to this perk. I have a car and it runs just fine. There is no reason to pay for the rides of our public servants.
Does anyone give you $159 a day in no-receipt expense accounts just for showing up at work? They pay you a salary. And when you run up a legitimate business expense, they expect a receipt to show for it. I will say no to the no-receipt expense accounts our senators have been using to enrich themselves on top of an already generous salary.
If elected office is supposed to be a period of public service, why are members of the general assembly receiving lavish, defined-benefit pensions at taxpayer expense? Fifteen years ago, they voted themselves a huge increase in this system and we’re now dealing with a $57 billion unfunded pension liability. The one way to guarantee fresh blood in the senate is to do away with the pensions that have turned well-intentioned public servants into Harrisburg “lifers.” I won’t accept a state pension and will propose that we eliminate it.
According to news reports, Sean Wiley is among the most costly state senators when it comes to state expense accounts. Here's how The Erie Times-News put it in their report April 20, 2015: "State Sen. Sean Wiley, of Millcreek Township, D-49th Dist., had the highest district office lease, totaling $76,258 for a partial 2012-13 year and a full 2013-14 year."
That's simply too much, especially when it's your money he's spending.
As a firearms owner and sportsman, I understand and respect the tradition of personal gun ownership and I understand that the Second Amendment was placed in the Bill of Rights as an individual liberty conferred upon the people.
The U.S. Constitution is clear, as is the Constitution of Pennsylvania, which says, “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.”
This language is worthy of our respect.