Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled his budget proposal on Tuesday, and state Republican lawmakers were not impressed.
The proposal calls for increased spending, a fee for state police coverage, a tax on Marcellus Shale production and a tax on municipal waste hauling, to name a few.
“This year’s budget proposal is simply more of the same,” said state Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint. “The governor is again seeking to grow state government and calling for increased spending of more than $2 billion in next year’s budget and additional borrowing of well over $1 billion. It’s too high a price to pay for our employers and taxpayers who are working hard to support their families.
“We need a fiscally responsible budget that respects the people who foot the bill today and in the future,” Causer added.
There were cuts to some very important programs introduced in the proposal as well.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, mentioned cuts to school safety funding, while Causer mentioned cuts to programs including hardwoods research, livestock and consumer health protection and more.
“The governor continues to call for new government programs, seeking to fund those at the expense of existing programs that have already proven their value,” Causer said. “Once again, the governor has targeted the agriculture industry that he claims to support with more than $4.3 million in cuts.
“He eliminated funding for hardwoods research and promotion, livestock and consumer health protection, and the Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission, just to name a few. As chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, I am committed to restoring these vital funds before considering funding for any additional initiatives,” the representative said.
The legislators said this is only the beginning of the process of eventually reaching a budgetary compromise, and Scarnati said the Senate Republicans remain committed to a “budget that respects taxpayers while helping continue to foster job growth and economic development across our commonwealth.”
He continued, “Governor Wolf’s massive cut to school safety funding while wanting to spend over $1.5 billion more this year is immensely concerning. Ensuring that students and teachers feel safe in their learning environments is a crucial part of helping children to learn and succeed.”
Causer commented that aspects of the budget show that Wolf is “out of touch with rural Pennsylvania.”
Particularly, he mentioned a fee for the state police. “It’s really an attack on rural Pennsylvania,” Causer said. “We are state taxpayers; we deserve a level of service. We have a right to expect a level of service.”
Adding a fee would be double taxation, he said. “I have fought against it for years, every time it comes up. And I will continue to fight against it.”
He called Wolf’s proposal irresponsible, but not surprising.
“(Wolf) called it an aggressive proposal,” Causer said. “I would call it irresponsible and unrealistic.”
Several of the proposals are repeats that Wolf keeps bringing back to the table, he said, like the energy tax, which Causer called misguided.
The Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association agreed with Causer.
Dan Weaver, president and executive director, said, “This tax, combined with the existing Impact Tax, would rank Pennsylvania’s severance tax structure as the highest in the nation, and do so during a time of extremely low commodity prices, cutbacks in drilling budgets by many producers in the state and a steady exodus of other producers to states with better climates for investment.”
Wolf said he would use the proceeds from the tax for infrastructure improvements in a plan he called “Restoring Pennsylvania.”
Weaver said, “’Restoring Pennsylvania’ is what natural gas developers have been doing here for the past decade. The Impact Tax, which no other segment of Pennsylvania’s economy pays and no other gas-producing state has, is restoring public assets and funding development projects in communities in all 67 of the state’s counties.”
He added that legislators should draw the line on additional taxes and work to improve the competitiveness of the business climate instead.
Both Causer and Scarnati said they are looking forward to working toward a budget that serves state residents.
Causer said, “Later this month, the House and Senate Appropriations committees will delve into the details of the proposal to identify true needs and opportunities to save taxpayer money.”