Will state’s next budget keep Pennsylvanians safe or solvent?

I’m having a hard time remaining upbeat about the budget that will steer Pennsylvania for 12 months, beginning July 1. I'm no fan of playing the blame-game, but I'm a big fan of the facts, and everyone else should be, too. After all, the decisions made in Harrisburg impact your life and the lives of your loved ones.

The House Republican budget, H.B. 218, approved along party lines in April, does little to spark confidence on the crucial mandate of government -- public safety. It would:

  • Put more sexual predators on our streets;
  • Gut law enforcement programs that keep our citizens safe;
  • Prevent people from receiving help after being raped or sexually assaulted;
  • Slash funding for programs that protect our seniors;
  • Cut important services and programs for veterans; and
  • Strip resources from first responders and law enforcement’s ability to respond to the heroin and opioid crisis.

These cuts are wrong and an absolute blow to the safety of our citizens and the health and well-being of our citizens, law enforcement community and veterans.

I could go on – everything from lifeguards to state prisons face severe funding cuts -- but I think you get the point. And, even though the majority party passed its budget bill with zero input and zero votes from Democrats, I realize how daunting the challenges are, foremost the $3 billion structural deficit compounded by not-too-distant state budgets that threw gas on the fiscal bonfire.

Treasurer Joseph M. Torsella and Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale project that state government may have to borrow as much as $3 billion for operating expenses between this July, when the new fiscal year begins, and next April. Sadly, Harrisburg Republicans are floating plans to borrow something like $2 billion with virtually no public discussion to try to balance the state’s grossly out-of-whack budget for one year.

I believe that Republicans and Democrats can secure cost savings and efficiency in government while maintaining and even improving public safety.

We can achieve a responsible budget by getting rid of outrageous tax loopholes and making smart investments in programs that preserve and create jobs for Pennsylvania workers.

By avoiding higher taxes for working families, small businesses and the middle class, Pennsylvania can forge a new way forward with a budget that works for everyone, not just the biggest corporations, the wealthiest and the best-connected special interests.

It’s extremely worrisome that Harrisburg again will settle on a budget conclusion, such as H.B. 218, which amounts to an excuse to stop thinking and striving. A “Get Out of Town Budget” without securing recurring revenue to pay for core state government functions would amount to more fiscal foolishness.

We’ve been down that road, and it heads straight off a fiscal cliff, taking fiscal responsibility and safety with it.