(8/2016) Pennsylvania has a new state budget, which means we will not have a repeat of last year’s nine-month-long budget stalemate, which threatened school closures and the closing of agencies that provide human services for our society’s most vulnerable citizens. But just because a budget is on time or close thereto doesn’t make it a good deal for the citizens and
taxpayers of Pennsylvania.
I did not vote in favor of this year’s $31.6 billion state budget or the legislation to authorize the funding to pay for it because it spends about five to six times more than the rate of inflation and simply demands too much of Pennsylvania taxpayers. It spends too much money unnecessarily and allocates funding to agencies and programs that, in my view, are already
over-funded. It sets a bad precedent that will only make matters worse at budget time next year.
Due to federal mandates, increased corrections and health care costs, the Commonwealth needed to raise more than $1.28 billion in new revenue. That new revenue will be generated in a number of ways, including a tax amnesty program that is expected to bring in $100 million by enabling delinquent taxpayers to pay up without penalty; another $100 million from gaming
expansion; and about $150 million from proceeds stemming from the new wine privatization plan.
While the revenue package contains no increases in broad-based taxes, it leans heavily on cigarettes and tobacco products. In fact, it raises the tax on cigarettes $1 per pack to a total of $2.60 per pack to generate more than $431 million; and expects to raise about $65 million more from e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own cigarettes. The revenue plan also
taxes lottery winnings, and it imposes a tax on digital downloads, which I believe unfairly and disproportionately targets children.
It is projected that despite this additional revenue, we will begin next year with a deficit of roughly $400 million to $600 million. I am particularly concerned that the more than $60 billion unfunded liability in the state’s public pension system still has not been addressed and continues to grow at an alarming rate.
On the positive side, this budget provides about $15 million to combat heroin and opioid addiction, and an additional $1.4 million for West Nile and Zika virus control – all of which have the potential to cost far more without this preemptive funding to address the problem now. Finally, the budget spends about $2 billion less than Gov. Tom Wolf had proposed and it does not
raise your sales or income taxes.
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