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OPED: Wolf's tax-and-spend agenda bad for Pa. taxpayers

Sen.Scott Wagner
York County's 28th District.

More money.  $3.6 billion to be exact.  That is the amount of additional tax revenue Gov. Tom Wolf wants from you to fund his tax and spend budget.  To that I ask: how dare he?

State Sen. Scott Wagner

Although his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Feb. 9 was lacking specifics of his 2016-2017 budget proposal, the reality is that Wolf is continuing the tax-and-spend theme presented last year.

During his speech, the governor painted a doom-and-gloom picture as a means to convince the people of Pennsylvania — or maybe himself — that massive tax increases are needed to address the Commonwealth’s fiscal problems.  He even reflected back on his time as a business owner stating, “You have to take a clear-eyed look at how the problem arose, and then you have to solve it. And fast. Or you won’t be in business very long.”

Besides failing to identify the real problem, Wolf’s only solution is to raise your taxes. Again, how dare he? How dare the governor ask for more money from the people of Pennsylvania without taking basic steps to control costs?

How dare Wolf ask you to give him more money without:

  • Doing anything to reform the pension system that is driving costs — and property taxes — through the roof? 
  • Reforming our archaic liquor distribution system to maximize not only consumer convenience but also revenue to the state?
  • Implementing a real hiring and wage freeze on state workers?
  • Asking for more concessions from state employees that enjoy pay and benefits unmatched in the private sector?
  • Asking for concessions from the money managers that get paid hundreds of millions of dollars to manage the state pension funds?
  • Using savings from innovations and efficiencies to shrink the looming budget deficit?

Even the governor stated in his budget address that, “We are going to have to stop closing our eyes and hoping our problems go away.  We are going to have to face the facts.”

Then face the facts, governor. Stop proposing we use taxpayers of Pennsylvania to funnel more money into systems that we know aren’t working efficiently or effectively.

Wolf unveils 2016-17 budget plan

Wolf acknowledges that property taxes are a problem, but instead of wanting to address the cost driver – pensions – he just wants you to send more money to Harrisburg to keep funding an unsustainable pension system.  He claims the money is for education.  Yes, money does go to the school districts — just as your school property taxes do — but the schools in turn use it to pay the employer (taxpayers) pension obligations that continue to rise every year.

When it comes to his education funding arguments, Wolf is trying to pit taxpayers against students, which is unacceptable.  In his budget address, Wolf stated “I can accept that we disagree about the importance of education.”

Who disagrees about the importance of education? No one. What we disagree about is continually throwing money at a broken education system — a system monopolized by pension obligations. So, please don’t be fooled into thinking that more education dollars translates into more money for our students.

I have already referenced a couple of lines from the governor’s budget speech, but one of my favorites was, “Someone in Harrisburg has to start telling the people of Pennsylvania the truth about the mess we’re in.” I myself have been doing this since coming to the Senate, and especially during the current fiscal year’s budget debacle.

But I also call on the governor to tell the truth. The truth that he wants more of taxpayers’ money and pensions are the real reason education costs go up every year. The truth is that state workers and teachers have lavish benefits private sector workers could only dream of having and that taxpayers help money managers buy vacation homes with the millions we pay in fees for managing the pension funds.

York lawmakers taken aback by Wolf address

And please, Gov. Wolf, stop pitting taxpayers against students. Stop hiding behind doom-and -gloom numbers you have created.  Stop demanding the people of Pennsylvania pay more in taxes without bringing accountability to their money we are already spending.

If we can’t look our constituents in the eyes and tell them that we’re doing everything that we can to control costs, it is unacceptable to ask them to send us more of their hard-earned money.

If the governor wants to talk about ways to reform government and create savings to reduce the deficit, I will be the first one at the table. However, until that time, he has no business asking working Pennsylvanians to send more money to Harrisburg.

— Sen. Scott Wagner represents residents of York County's 28th District.