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OPINION

OPED: Does state government need to raise your taxes?

STATE REP. SETH GROVE
R-York
Grove

On Dec. 3, I joined my colleagues Reps. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver/Washington, and Cris Dush, R-Jefferson/Indiana, to announce a report we authored on Gov. Tom Wolf’s spending during this budget impasse. We found more unanswered questions than we found answers. Ninety-seven percent of Wolf’s spending is unaccounted for, with no information on how the money was spent. Out of over $30 billion Wolf spent, we only have the details on about $4 billion in spending. The administration is using $2.7 billion in prior years’ unspent tax dollars, from as far back as 2005, to fund Harrisburg’s bureaucratic operations. On average, we have around $2.3 billion in lapsed funds each year, which means the administration found $400 million we can use instead of raising taxes.

After this report was released, the administration decided to attack us. Instead of looking at the utter lack of transparency and absolutely no accountability, they decided to call names and point fingers. We offered 15 common sense solutions to rectify this situation and instead of the administration working together to make our Commonwealth more transparent and accountable to its residents, they decided to ignore the comprehensive report. This response from the administration begs the question, “what are they hiding from the taxpayers?”

After realizing the government is sitting on billions in taxpayer dollars, I started analyzing were we could find ways to balance a budget without asking Pennsylvanians to pay more. I started with our spending report and kept digging:

  • $400 million in unspent dollars (“framework” budget already is using $200 million).
  • $150 million in adapting lean government practices (GO TIME).
  • $55 million improving the collection of delinquent taxes.
  • $90 million to reduce super utilizers of our health care system.
  • $69 million in administrative savings from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale pointed out and passing bipartisan legislation introduced in the House and Senate
  • $100 million for non-surface disturbance drilling around state parks and state forests.
  • $95 million to allow beer to be sold in convenience stores.

Total: $759 million – enough to cover the framework budget or have $440 million left over if we passed the $30.26 billion House budget, which passed last week.

Normally, in order for state government to raise your taxes they need to pass a Tax Code, thus I have introduced the No Tax Code to ensure we have options on the table to not raise your taxes. While these are legitimate policy options we should consider, we have plenty of other options in front of us to ensure we do not have to raise your taxes.

Did you know 500,000 people are new to Medicaid because the governor unilaterally decided to expand eligibility? The Independent Fiscal Office pointed to $363 million in savings this fiscal year since state costs shifted to federal costs. While our budgets do reflect some Medicaid expansion savings, there are more. The following is a potential list of state funded line items which should be analyzed to see what costs were shifted away from state dollars and are now being paid for by the federal government through Medicaid expansion:

  • Drug and Alcohol Programs
  • Diabetes Programs
  • Sexually Transmitted Disease Screening and Treatment
  • Newborn Screening
  • Cancer Screening Services
  • AIDS Programs and Special Pharmaceutical Services
  • Tuberculosis Screening and Treatment
  • Renal Dialysis
  • Expanded Medical Services for Women
  • Behavioral Health Services
  • Autism Intervention and Services
  • Breast Cancer Screening

Buried within the “Framework” budget, are questionable line items which were added to the budget. These line items are for “grant programs” or WAMS (“walking around money”). Yes they are back. Harrisburg’s infamous pork-barrel spending is being used again to secure votes and reward lawmakers that otherwise would have opposed the “framework.” We could eliminate the $58 million of WAMS in newly created line items in Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) alone to assist in reducing the need to raise taxes.

As you can see, we have plenty of options in front of us to NOT raise your taxes. But it takes leadership and the willingness to actually ask questions to drill down on what is absolutely necessary to fund. Please feel to read the Report on State Spending During the Budget Impasse and Balancing the Budget with Nontax Revenue on my website: RepGrove.com.

One final point, imagine where we would be had Wolf not vetoed federal funds and the 68 percent of the state budget we all agreed with. Would we still have a budget impasse in the middle of December?