The governor, on Feb. 7, presented his budget proposal for the 2017-18 state budget. I was encouraged his proposal was a much more pragmatic and realistic starting point to the process than his budget proposals from the last two years. This year, the governor is proposing a $32.3 billion budget, with more than a $450 million increase in funding for preK-12 education. Although the governor is not asking for any increase in the sales or income taxes, he is suggesting increased taxes on the natural gas industry. There are, of course, both positive and negative aspects to this budget proposal.
I think restructuring government is a key to driving down costs. It can be argued that many state departments are duplicative and overstaffed, and can and should be consolidated. The governor is proposing to combine the departments of Aging, Health, Human Services and Drug and Alcohol Programs into one department, as well as combining the Department of Corrections with the Board of Probation and Parole. I think these mergers could be beneficial. However, this approach needs to be examined to ensure the goal is truly to deliver the most effective services to the people of Pennsylvania using the most effective methods.
I am disappointed there was no mention of any reform for the biggest cost driver to state government: the state’s two public pensions systems. Whether pension reform is part of the budget, or we get an agreement to move it separately, at more than $61 billion in unfunded liabilities, Pennsylvania’s pension crisis must be addressed.
I also disagree with his proposal to levy a $25 per person fee in areas that use the Pennsylvania State Police as their law enforcement agency. However, I applaud the governor’s effort to streamline our state government and to consider new approaches. This is a budget in which I think we can find some common ground.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will be one of a select group of lawmakers who is involved in the upcoming budget hearings to delve into the details of the governor’s proposal and examine the level of spending in all areas of state government. This is a responsibility I take seriously and I look forward to working with the administration, as well as my colleagues in the House and Senate, to develop the best plan possible for Pennsylvania moving forward.
For more information on the governor’s budget plan, visit PAHouseGOP.com
Representative Curt Sonney
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tricia Lehman