Burns votes against incurring $1.29 billion more in state debt

One of two House Democrats to oppose additional spending

HARRISBURG, May 5 – Leery of saddling taxpayers with additional massive debt, state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, voted this week against a bill authorizing an extra $1.29 billion in state spending for capital projects in the current fiscal year.

"We just can’t afford such gargantuan new spending," said Burns, one of two House Democrats to oppose the measure. "All we heard about during the recent budget impasse is how Pennsylvania has a huge structural budget deficit. I don’t think adding a billion-plus dollars to the debt side of the equation helps solve that problem."

Burns said that as a fiscally conservative Democrat who is well aware that his constituents detest tax increases, he had to oppose S.B. 811, even though it passed the Republican-dominated House 181-18 and garnered unanimous approval in the Republican-controlled Senate.

"Sooner or later, somebody’s going to have to repay that $1.29 billion – and that somebody will be the taxpayers of the 72nd Legislative District and across Pennsylvania," Burns said. "The need to repay this money will be used as further justification for why we must have higher taxes."

Burns said his vote was consistent with a position he staked out in 2014, when he voted for a bill that would limit state government spending by placing limits on debt. That bill, H.B. 2420, sought to reduce the commonwealth’s $3.45 billion debt ceiling on the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project program by an additional $500 million over 10 years, until it reached $2.95 billion.

In 2014, Burns also supported H.B. 2419, which sought to reduce overall general obligation debt by nearly $4 billion in 20 years and establish limitations on how much the state can spend in new projects in a given year.

Regarding this week’s vote, Burns said, "With everyone wringing their hands with worry over Pennsylvania’s credit downgrades, I fail to see how adding more than a billion dollars of debt in this fiscal year is going to help matters, unless someone magically conjures up enough legislative votes for the sales and income tax hikes that failed miserably in gaining support last year."

The additional debt load in S.B. 811 includes: $750 million for buildings and structures, $20 million for furniture and equipment, $175 million for transportation assistance projects, $335 million for redevelopment assistance projects and $10 million for flood control projects.