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OP-ED: Folmer on following Truman's example
The budget impasse between Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature is about $3.6 billion. The budget passed by the General Assembly but vetoed by the governor proposed to spend $30.2 billion: $956.98 each second. The governor wants to spend $33.8 billion: $1,071.79 each second and $4.7 billion more than the current state budget — a 16 percent increase requiring a host of additional taxes.
With issues also reverberating around Pennsylvania's public pension costs, health care benefits and educational funding levels, now does not seem to be a good time for such massive increases in spending and taxes.
According to a July 2015 study by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, "Ranking the States by Fiscal Condition," Pennsylvania ranks 41st among the states for its fiscal health: 45th in cash solvency, 39th in budget solvency, 36th in long-run solvency, 17th in service-level solvency, and 26th in trust fund solvency.
Unfortunately, such statistics are not new to our commonwealth.
I recently read a 1994 report that talked about the challenges Gov. Tom Ridge would face: "... (T)he archaic incrementalism of that annual tribal rite, 'The Budget Battle,' simply will not do. Adding from 1 to 6 percent to virtually all budget items, depending on votes and revenue projections, is not effective government. The result — the constant need for more revenue — hurts the business climate by maintaining the highest business taxes in the nation, and undermines our strengths — a skilled and dedicated work force; our 'Keystone' location; abundant energy, water, and transportation; and a quality of life that visitors envy."
Over two decades and four governors later, little has changed. How sad. I believe the time has come to stop talking about Pennsylvania's strengths and start doing something about them. To me, this begins with looking at how we spend the taxpayers' money.
Fortunately, we have examples to follow. One of the best is from 1941 when Harry Truman was a U.S. senator. With war in Europe and Asia and the United States about to be drawn in, Sen. Truman started looking at how billions of dollars' worth of tax moneys were spent. Soon the "Truman Committee" found ways to save millions — without compromising our national defense. From the corruption he uncovered, to the shoddy work being done, and wasted time and materials all told the estimated savings was $15 billion.
Senator John Eichelberger, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and I, as chair of the Senate State Government Committee, are planning a similar undertaking. Taking a page from Truman, we want to look at state spending for examples of waste, fraud and abuse. Truman was astounded at the problems he discovered: "materials being left out in the weather to be ruined, hundreds of men just standing around doing nothing collecting their pay."
The way I look at it, we can continue doing what we've been doing — spending tax moneys and finding creative ways to increase revenues — or we can start critically looking at how the commonwealth spends the people's money.
I prefer the latter because I want to squeeze every penny from each tax dollar. Until we do that, I don't see any need to add or expand taxes.
— State Sen. Mike Folmer is a Republican representing the 48th District, which includes parts of York County.