The Worst PA Legislative Proposal

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

No sober business professional ever opened a critical, high-stakes negotiation by announcing, "Let’s get this over with. I have a 2:00 flight to catch."

In order to get their stakeholders the fairest deal possible, rather than relinquishing negotiating leverage by encouraging the opposition to run out the clock, professionals commit all the time necessary to reach responsible outcomes.

But that’s not how Pennsylvania’s budget negotiations will be handled if Dauphin County Senator Rob Teplitz (D-15) has his way, and Pennsylvania’s stakeholders — citizens and taxpayers — will pay an extremely high price.

Easily clearing a very high bar, Teplitz has introduced Harrisburg’s most ill-advised bill ever, one adding personal penalties to a June 30 deadline for completing annual budgets. If budgets aren’t passed by the already-artificial deadline, Teplitz’s bill would suspend pay for legislators, cabinet officers, the governor and lieutenant governor.

Sounds good? It’s not.

If Teplitz’s bill had been passed before June 30, 2015, having already vetoed a legislature-approved budget, Pennsylvania’s wealthy governor, who doesn’t take a state salary, would have had leverage to coerce the legislature to pass his preferred budget, including massive new and increased taxes. Budget proceedings lasted into 2016. Aided by antsy Democrats, more-fiscally-responsible legislators were able accumulate enough leverage to outlast Gov. Tom Wolf’s demands for substantial tax hikes. In this way, Pennsylvania’s stakeholders benefitted from the delay.

Not all legislators are wealthy or have second sources of income. Too many career legislators depend upon their state stipends. In fact, many of them have the best jobs they’ve ever had or hope to have. Financially-vulnerable officeholders are the ones most likely to go along with passing lousy budgets simply to keep their paychecks coming.

For the fiscal year 2016-2017 budget, Governor Wolf dropped his original budgetary demands for sales tax increases and an eleven percent retroactive personal income tax hike. But Wolf did get some tax increases.

The legislature caved to Wolf by increasing state spending by $1.4 billion, an amount everyone knew could not be met by state revenues. Indexed to population change and inflation, spending increases should have been limited to $300 million. Members of the House and Senate had already detailed $3 billion in potential savings along with budgeting process improvements, but Republican leadership ignored those and continued to allow unsustainable spending. The oversized spending increases forced a bipartisan vote to pass a "modest" tax package to close (sort of) the revenue shortfall.

Rather than addressing corporate welfare, prevailing wage cost inflation, benefit fraud and dozens of other ways to reduce government waste, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly was content to find new ways of extracting extra cash from hard working Pennsylvanians.

Teplitz’s ultimate penalty for excessive budgetary delays would trigger recall elections for the entire legislature, the governor and his lieutenant. Pennsylvanians should support recall elections, but not necessarily for budget delays. Instead, elected officials should face recall for irresponsible spending and their incessant attempts to confiscate more money from already-overburdened taxpayers – starting in November.