A guest column by state Sen. Rob Wonderling about Pennsylvania's budget crisis and the disingenuous way Democrats approach taxes and spending.
An honest conversation
By Sen. Rob Wonderling
"I'm proud to pay taxes in the United States; the only thing is, I could be just as proud for half the money." — Arthur Godfrey
When a conversation begins "Do you want the good news or the bad news first?" you have to brace yourself. So here goes, brace yourself.
The bad news is the White House has revised its budget for the year stating that the deficit will rise by $89 billion to above $1.8 trillion — about four times the record set just last year. The red ink comes from the recession, the economic stimulus bill, and the imbalance between what the government spends and what it takes in.
The bad news is that Pennsylvania has been hit hard too by this national economic crisis. Pennsylvanians have lost jobs, businesses have cut back, and our state revenues have fallen dramatically.
As of May 1st, the actual revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year is $2.6 billion. We expect that shortfall to grow to 2.9 billion by June 30th — a drop of more than 10 percent from the official revenue estimate.
Unlike the federal government, Pennsylvania cannot operate with a deficit. We cannot borrow without limit to balance the budget or to attempt to stimulate the economy. Pennsylvania's constitution requires a balanced budget.
So you are thinking, "Where's the good news Wonderling"?
Recently, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a budget, Senate Bill 850. It is a balanced budget that does not increase taxes.
This budget represents a responsible spending plan that preserves the core governmental functions of public health, public safety, and education.
More bad news.
Budget cuts always come with pain, and I recognize that. Hundreds of difficult choices were made in this budget. Many good and important programs had to be put on hold to bring the budget into balance. I believe this short-term sacrifice is the best long-term approach for the citizens of Pennsylvania.
I have supported these programs in the past and look forward to the day when funding for these programs can be restored, but families and businesses across Pennsylvania are making cuts in their own budgets, and state government needs to do the same. We must live within our means.
I believe taking these difficult steps now will allow our Commonwealth to restore many important programs as soon as possible without a tax increase in the future. Senate Bill 850 is built on a spending level that is in line with our revenues. This budget will position our state to rebound quickly when the national economy begins to improve.
The only honest alternative to cutting spending is increasing taxes, and history shows us that solving a budget crisis with tax increases kills future economic growth.
This budget maintains the $750 million Rainy Day Fund, which we will need for future year budgets when we no longer have an infusion of national stimulus funding.
Unlike many other line items, basic education spending is preserved by using federal stabilization funds. Combined with the additional federal stimulus funds which are being sent directly to school districts under Title 1, Title 2, and I.D.E.A., this budget represents a real net increase in funding for school districts.
For example, in my Senate district, every school district will received more than it did last year. For example, East Penn School District will receive a 10.7 percent increase, Palisades School District will receive an 11.9 percent increase, and North Penn School district will receive a 20.2 percent increase.
The Pennsylvania Senate has taken unprecedented steps to further reduce spending including implementing a hiring freeze, donating the cost of living increase to charity, instituting a co-pay for health care for all state employees, eliminating automobile leases for public officials, and applying any legislative surplus to reducing the deficit.
Since voting in support of Senate Bill 850, I have received numerous e-mails from constituents supporting efforts to control spending and live within our means and then urging me in the next sentence to restore funding for independent colleges and universities, public television and the arts, to name a few programs.
To those citizens, I would ask that you e-mail me to let me know exactly what taxes you would like raised and by how much to fund your program. You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If we are going to have true transparency in government then we must have a frank discussion about how we intend to pay for programs we simply cannot afford.
State Sen. Rob Wonderling is a Republican who represents the 24th district in Pennsylvania which includes parts of Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton counties.