OPED: Pa. makes strides in 2017
As 2017 comes to a close, I want to take the time to review all the legislative accomplishments of the House Republican caucus. This has been a busy and challenging year for the General Assembly and I'm proud of what we have been able to accomplish. The legislative process is often frustrating but we continue to work hard to protect the taxpayers and to stand up for the values of the people we represent.
In June, the General Assembly passed historic pension reform that will begin to address a serious financial liability of the Commonwealth while protecting the benefit of current employees and current retirees. These reforms, which are now law, will save the taxpayers billions over thirty years. Additionally, public employee benefits will start to incorporate elements of a 401(k) style which is common in the private sector.
I believe budget negotiations yielded good results for state taxpayers. Spending is $31.99 billion which is an increase of $54 million as compared to the prior fiscal year. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) recommends that budget growth be below the inflation rate when adjusted for population growth. For 2017-18, the TABOR rate would be 1.01 percent. With a growth of 0.2 percent our budget holds the line on spending.
The budget reaffirms our commitment to education by increasing Basic Education Funding through the Fair Funding Formula by $100 million to $5.995 billion. It also increases early childhood funding (Pre-K Counts and Head Start) by $30 million to $226.5 million. Additionally the budget restores Governor Wolf’s harmful Pupil Transportation cut to school districts. The budget also increases Special Education Funding by $25 million to $1.122 billion.
This budget sets a record high $11.86 billion for Pre-K-12 education — in fact, with this budget, Republicans will have increased Pre-K-12 education by $1 billion over two years. The budget maintains state support for Pennsylvania’s state-related universities at current levels, and the State System of Higher Education will receive a 2 percent increase ($8.84 million).
School reform continues to be an important issue in Harrisburg. This year we helped expand school choice by increasing the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) by $10 million. We passed a bill that created alternatives to the Keystone Exam for career and technical education students and delayed the implementation of additional Keystone Exams. We also changed the process of teacher furloughs by protecting our best teachers and not simply relying on seniority to decide furloughs.
I believe that we have an obligation to help some of our most vulnerable citizens such as those with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities. The budget we passed will provide services to an additional 3,910 individuals with autism or intellectual disabilities and 5,130 more people with physical disabilities will receive services.
This prolonged stalemate was over taxes. House Republicans fought against taxes while other negotiating parties, including Gov. Tom Wolf, were seeking large tax increases. Because of the hard work of House Republicans, Pennsylvania taxpayers will not be facing a large increase in their taxes.
My goal as your state representative has always been to provide for the needs of the Commonwealth in the most fiscally prudent manner possible. It is my belief that this budget accomplishes both of these goals. We in Harrisburg are stewards of your tax dollars and it is incumbent upon us to be respectful of that fact. Every year, I approach our state budget with that thought in mind.
The House also continued to tackle Pennsylvania’s large and onerous debt. In October, House Bill 785, which I authored, was signed into law. This important piece of legislation continues the process of putting additional controls on the growth of Pennsylvania’s debt. This law helps to restrain the overall debt level of Pennsylvania.
The legislature also passed a new law to protect first responders by strengthening our “Steer Clear” law. There is also a new law that makes it easier for police to use body cameras. We committed more money in the budget to treat those addicted to opioids and we passed a bill to give parents more tools to help get substance abuse treatment for a child. The Legislature also strengthened state laws against endangering the welfare of children.
In 2018 we intended to continue our efforts to reinvent government so that it can meet today’s challenges. We intend to push reforms to bring more transparency and accountability to our budget process. We will continue to fight the governor’s proposed tax increases and to work on lowering the debt of the Commonwealth. Finally, and most importantly, we will continue to pursue a pro-job growth agenda so that every Pennsylvanian has the ability to find a quality, family sustaining career.
— Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He represents the 94th District.