OP-ED: Vetoed budget strengthens drug and alcohol abuse programs


As we enter into the third week of Gov. Tom Wolf's shutdown, Pennsylvanians are beginning to feel the impact of the governor's hasty decision to veto the entire budget.

On June 30 Republicans placed on the governor's desk a budget that was not only on time, but did not raise taxes. Contained within our budget was funding for 274 line items that were nearly identical the governor's budget. This means Republicans agreed to almost 70 percent of Wolf's funding requests. In fact, the only difference between these line items was that Republicans actually increased funding for 100 of them beyond the governor's proposal.

On the remaining items, Wolf could have used his power to veto specific line items and worked with Republicans towards a compromise without endangering essential services. This includes $16.8 million that both Republicans and Wolf agreed upon to prevent domestic violence and provide assistance for victims of domestic violence. Another important area of the commonwealth's budget threatened by the governor's veto is lifesaving treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

Earlier this week Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis published an op-ed calling on the Legislature to match Wolf's proposed funding levels for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. However, Secretary Tennis neglected to mention that by vetoing the entire budget his department will not have any money to address these problems in our community. Tennis also failed to explain the difference between how Republicans funded their budget compared to how Wolf funded his budget.

On March 3, the governor proposed a $4 billion increase to state spending, which was paid for with $12.7 billion in new tax revenue over the next two fiscal years. This revenue came from over 550 new taxes by increasing and expanding the sales tax, combined with increasing the personal income tax. Under this tax plan Pennsylvanians would pay additional sales tax to actually receive drug and alcohol counseling services, along with additional sales taxes on ex-offender rehabilitation services, marriage counseling, family mediation services and parenting support services, all of which are important services to assist Pennsylvanians dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.

Not only would Pennsylvanians be forced to pay a sales tax for nursing home care, they would face a sales tax for home health care, funeral services, caskets, headstones, textbooks, diapers, "dating" escort services and even whale watching. Although I am uncertain of how much whale watching actually takes place in Pennsylvania, its inclusion in the budget underscores how the governor's plan would make nearly every activity taxable.

The Independent Fiscal Office, in a non-partisan analysis of Wolf's budget, found it increased the tax burden of every single Pennsylvanian. While Republicans would like to increase funding on many items, we will not increase taxes and force taxpayers to pay the bill. Instead, my colleagues and I came together to offer a realistic budget that doesn't raise taxes, but invests into critical areas like drug and alcohol programs.

Under the Republican budget, which was submitted on time to the governor, $44 million was set aside to fund the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, which is 6.5 percent increase from the previous year's budget.

I agree with Secretary Tennis; these programs are important and we should increase funding for them. However, I encourage the secretary to call on Wolf to end his shutdown of state government, which would allow the commonwealth to invest $44 million to address drug and alcohol abuse without raising taxes.