I was one of the few House Republicans to vote against the 2019-20 budget. Behind every vote is a story, and I want to share mine.
This $34 billion budget is not really just a $34 billion budget. It includes more than a billion dollars in shadowy offline spending, known as supplemental spending, bringing the true figure to about $35 billion. This is a spending increase of more than 4%, nearly double what would be allowed under the Taxpayers Protection Act, which, if were law, would have limited the spending increase to 2.12% this year.
Instead of demanding Gov. Tom Wolf to cover his overspending through using existing unlapsed funding, he was only forced to cough up $200 million.
Offline spending in the shadow budget stifles transparency and accountability. Worse, it hides increased spending. Would we approve this level of spending if our revenues were flat? The answer is simple. No.
Some believe it’s OK to spend more when revenues are up. Our spending perpetually outpaces the rate of inflation compromising our economic growth – Pennsylvania’s economy ranks 41st in the nation.
If we can’t control spending when we have record revenues, we’re never going to control spending. Less government is the key to ensuring Pennsylvanians continue to prosper. This is evident by the unexpected increase in tax revenue this fiscal year.
The Taxpayers Protection Act, which I have long supported, ties spending increases to the rate of inflation and the average percentage change in state population, or average change in personal income for the three preceding calendar years, whichever is lower. This prevents state government from demanding more money from taxpayers when taxpayers simply can’t afford it.
I recently joined colleagues, including Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill and Mike Folmer, who represent parts of York County, to support the Taxpayers Protection Act, which was introduced in the Senate as Senate Bill 116. I also co-sponsored the House version of the Taxpayer Protection Act, House Bill 1314, which was voted out of the State Government Committee recently. I believe this is a bill we must get signed into law to protect taxpayers.
Offline spending isn’t the only shadowy dealing that involves your tax dollars.
About two years ago I was part of a small group of House Republicans who pored over the state’s special fund reserve accounts to identify unused money, some of which had been sitting idle for years, to plug a one-time budget gap. After we presented our findings, we were told by the Wolf administration that the funds were accounted for and couldn’t be used.
Fast forward to this year and the Wolf administration has proposed to use millions of this formerly forbidden, idle special fund money to off-set budget increases.
While only nominal special fund reserve transfers were used to plug the one-time budget gap, I believe our efforts were quite effective. Not only did we shed light on the volume of offline spending, we also demonstrated that these funds did in fact possess significant amounts of surplus dollars of taxpayer money. These special funds must be more transparent and there must be more accountability. Whether special fund revenues come from the General Fund, a tax designation, fees or assessments, they are still taxpayer dollars and Pennsylvanians have a right to know how these funds are being spent. This money should be used to benefit all Pennsylvanians, not just the politically connected. Further, these special funds are too often utilized as a vehicle to hide increased spending – spending that is removed from the General Fund budget to special fund accounts to appear as a reduction in spending. This must stop.
We achieved a revenue surplus with the help of the Trump economy, by holding the line on taxes and keeping increased spending at a minimum. While I personally believe spending reductions are warranted, a full accountability of current spending, demonstrating results and benefits gained, should accompany all government spending before any line-items are increased or maintained in the budget. Staving off Wolf’s proposed tax increases allowed Pennsylvania’s economy to grow naturally. We are now reaping the benefits of fiscal responsibility…fiscal conservatism, and we must not allow it to be squandered in a spending spree.
When the economy grows and isn’t overly taxed, tax revenue increases naturally – free market principles – and all Pennsylvanians benefit when government lives within its means and gets out of the way.
?Representative Dawn Keefer
92nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross