York lawmakers say they can save the state $3B

Greg Gross
  • The GOP-led Taxpayer Caucus report lays out $3 billion in savings in state government.
  • However, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said some of those savings are already accounted for.
Rep. Seth Grove

A group of Republican lawmakers said they've found ways to shave $3 billion from the state budget, alleviating the need for a tax hike proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

The members of the Taxpayers Caucus said the savings would be done by pinching pennies and by generating nontax revenue, such as selling off the state-run liquor system.

"We're turning over rocks. This is done in the private sector every day," said Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township. "What that means is turning a rock over and finding pennies, nickels and quarters."

Wagner co-chairs the caucus with Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township. The pair of York County lawmakers were flanked by fellow legislators and taxpayers Tuesday as they unveiled the report detailing the savings plan.

However, the Wolf administration said some of the savings in the report were included in his latest budget proposal.

The General Assembly has a little more than a month before the budget deadline. Last year's budget negotiations ran deep into this year, and it wasn't until March that a budget became law.

The report: The report highlights ambitious ways to save money, even comparatively small sums.

The largest potential savings could be realized in the state Department of Human Services. Wagner and Grove said they found  $922 million in savings through various initiatives, such as stopping $159 million in welfare payments to people who no longer live in Pennsylvania, $500 million as part of the Medicaid expansion and $31 million by stopping improper Medicaid payments.

One of the smaller amounts that could be saved is $43,384 from the state police budget. Troopers use an electronic ticketing process in which a ticket is printed on two sheets of paper, costing a total of 16 cents. By altering the printing method to use only one sheet of paper, the cost would be slashed in half, the report said.

"No amount of savings, no matter how small, shouldn't be overlooked," Grove said.

The report also lists $158 million in savings the Governor’s Office of Transformation, Innovation, Management and Efficiency, also known as Go-Time, already found and $167 million in savings realized by the state Auditor General's Office.

Wolf and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale have been leading the charge in finding government savings since taking office in recent years.

Grove contends some of the already-found savings weren't included in the governor's proposed budget.

State Sen. Scott Wagner

Nontax revenue: The report also lists nontax revenue generators that won't hit taxpayers' wallets.

One way would be to generate $220 million by selling off the state's liquor stores. The amount includes $100 million lost when Pennsylvanians go to other states to buy alcohol.

GOP lawmakers have for years been championing the cause of privatization but have failed to get a bill signed into law, despite having a Republican ally in the governor's office for four years. They came close last year, but Wolf vetoed their liquor privatization bill as opponents argued the sell-off meant a one-time influx of cash for the state.

An additional $75 million could be raised by improving efforts to collecting back taxes, the report said.

New budget: As part of his budget plan, Wolf proposed a $2.7 billion tax increase. The package includes $2.2 billion in new spending, for a total of $33.3 billion, and would increase the personal income tax and slightly expand sales tax.

Grove notes the $3 billion savings would more than offset the proposed tax hike.

The Wolf administration said many of the savings included in the "error-filled" report, including the $500 million from Medicaid expansion and the $158 million from Go-Time, were already laid out in his budget proposal. Other potential savings were "proposed in the past, but have never received support, or are impossible to achieve."

The $922 million in saving at the Department of Human Services would mean cuts in services, a memo from the administration said.

"What we cannot do is continue to rely on gimmicks and smoke and mirrors, which is what the Taxpayers’ Caucus report calls for," the memo states.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks before he signs the medical cannabis bill into law in the rotunda of the Capitol in Harrisburg, Sunday, April 17, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Budgeting: The report also lays out different options on how the state does its budgets and calls for reforms.

One option would be to switch to performance-based budgeting, which forces programs to justify their allocations. Another is priority-based budgeting in which certain results are expected at certain funding levels.

The report also lists biennial budgeting as an option the state could pursue. About 20 states have gone to doing budgets every two years, and the reports notes time and money could be saved if Pennsylvania followed suit.

Grove said the budgeting options are meant to be looked at and are possible ways the state can improve its budgeting.

To read the full report, go to repgrove.com and click on the Pennsylvania Taxpayer Caucus tab.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.