Gov. Wolf’s Budget Address Takes Wrong Tone, Avoids Details
by State Rep. Keith J. Greiner, CPA (R-Upper Leacock)

On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf came before the General Assembly to deliver his 2016-17 budget address.

Sadly, the time-honored tradition of governors using this speech to provide the public with details about their preferred spending plan was marred by the governor’s contentious and condescending tone, lacking in any hint of conciliation toward compromise. And anyone hearing his address learned nothing of the budget he was proposing.

Wolf wants a $33.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2016-17, increasing spending more than 10 percent at a time when inflation is near zero. Senior citizens have not received a cost-of-living-adjustment, and national wage growth hovers around 2 percent.

In order to spend that much money, Wolf wants to raise the personal income tax by 11 percent, and he wants it applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2016. As if it weren’t bad enough to tax your earnings moving forward, Wolf also wants to take more of the money you have already earned. In addition, he wishes to expand the sales-and-use tax. In total, he wants nearly $3 billion more in taxes coming from 15 different tax hikes.

During his address, the governor discussed the importance of addressing the state’s structural deficit. I completely agree with his concern, but I disagree with his method of addressing it.

Right now, the state government is analogous to a business that is struggling financially. As a certified public accountant who counseled countless small-to-medium-sized businesses, I would first encourage any struggling business to review its expenses and make cuts, as necessary. The business also could attempt to increase its prices, if the market would allow that.

Wolf is choosing the second option, fighting to raise taxes to increase state revenue. But he isn’t stopping there. Wolf wants to spend billions of dollars over and above what is necessary to address the structural deficit.

The reality is, the governor’s actions will keep digging the financial hole deeper. A struggling business would not raise its prices and attempt to expand its operations, because that would likely increase both its debt and its expenditures.

The governor overlooks one factor in this budget equation: Taxpayers already feel stretched far enough and cannot shoulder the burden of increased income or sales taxes. We need to stop digging the hole deeper. Rather than turn to the taxpayers to solve our problems, the General Assembly must get serious about reining in expenses.

During his budget address, the governor suggested that if income and sales taxes are not raised, property taxes will rise. He used a deluge of hypothetical and hyperbolic statistics to drive home the point, using doom and gloom not based in fact in an attempt to scare taxpayers.

The governor simply does not seem to understand that there is a middle ground. State contributions to education are at an all-time high. Pennsylvania has the 10th-highest education spending per pupil in the country. Nearly $11 billion for pre-K-12 education was included in the budget sent to the governor in December. But instead of accepting this record investment, he cut $3 billion of the funding for school districts.

Also, the governor does not intend to apply the formula recommended by the Basic Education Funding Commission for fiscal year 2015-16. That means more and more of Lancaster County’s tax dollars are being spent on Philadelphia schools rather than here at home. It is time the General Assembly demand the implementation of the fair funding formula.

In his address, the governor did not even give lip-service to pension reform, the No. 1 factor behind increased school property taxes. He also did not even whisper about property tax reform, the No. 1 issue with my constituents.

Everyone wants our children to have a world-class education. We have provided record investments in education, and we can provide more by ensuring every tax dollar is properly spent and by reining in waste, fraud and outdated programs.

Wolf’s refrain appears to remain the same: He simply wants to raise your taxes to support his spending priorities. That is not the only way to move forward.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will spend the next month carefully scrutinizing every line item of the budget. Taxpayers expect their elected officials to make every effort to cut expenses before even considering raising taxes. I will continue to stand up for the taxpayers.

Keith J. Greiner, a certified public accountant from Upper Leacock Township, is a Republican serving the 43rd Legislative District in the House of Representatives, Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Representative Keith J. Greiner, CPA
43rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Eric Reath
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