Constitutional Amendment Proposed to Curb State Spending

Member Group : PA Watchdog

Pennsylvania lawmakers are gearing up to dive into closed-door negotiations that will lead to the 2019-20 state budget by the end of this month. With that in mind, a group of legislators concerned with the growth of government spending is once again seeking to have the Taxpayer Protection Act be included in those negotiations.

The TPA, introduced this session as Senate Bill 116 by Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, would amend the state constitution to limit the growth in annual spending by the state government each year. Any increase from the previous year’s budget would be limited to the rate of inflation plus the rate of population change.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Bartolotta and other lawmakers supporting the legislation pointed out that Pennsylvania’s population is not growing, which they said makes the TPA even more necessary.

David Taylor, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, argued that while Pennsylvania is seeing strong economic growth this year – as seen in a budget surplus projected to be well over $800 million at the end of this month – it still lags behind the national average.

“We need the state government to recognize meaningful limits, the limits as proposed in this legislation, to slow the growth of state government to the growth of population plus inflation, so that the economy can catch up,” Taylor said. “I mean, it’s a very sad commentary on Pennsylvania in that we, we aspire to mediocrity. If we could only grow at the national average, how much further ahead, we would be.”

Even if Bartolotta’s legislation is passed this year, it would only go into effect if it is passed again, without changes, during the 2020-21 legislative session and then approved by Pennsylvania voters. But even given how hard it is to change the constitution, Bartolotta rejected the idea that the TPA would unfairly restrict future lawmakers from addressing urgent needs.

“If there’s a governor who wishes to [exceed the TPA limit], it’s possible, you don’t have to change the constitution to do that,” she said. “But you do have to have a two-thirds majority in both chambers [of the Legislature] in order to do that. So our legislators need to be aware, they have to speak for the people they represent.”

As for the current budget surplus, Bartolotta argued the money should be deposited in the state’s rainy day fund, which was emptied after the Great Recession and only last year saw its first effort at replenishment. She said that the $23 million currently set aside could fund state government operations for about six hours.

“That ranks among the worst in the nation,” she said. “This fund is supposed to be Pennsylvania’s emergency savings in case of a downturn in the economy – and boy, have we seen that – or a natural disaster. Building this fund up again will help ensure lawmakers are not forced to cut state programs or raise taxes if a recession would hit.”