On February 7th Governor Wolf gave his latest budget address. Since he has his eye on re-election, this was the Governor’s most realistic budget to date. There are still a lot of problems with what he’s asking for, but it’s much less terrible that what he has wanted in the past.
For starters, Wolf acknowledges that there is room to cut spending and this is a step in the right direction. The problem arises when we look "under the hood, " and then the cuts disappear. The state budget is made up of several different parts: the general fund, special funds, federal funds, and other funds. These various parts all add up to give us the total operating budget. The current year’s total operating budget is $80.1 billion. In his budget address, Governor Wolf notes that there will be a $3 billion deficit next year. He purportedly solves the problem with $2 billion in spending cuts and "savings initiatives" and increases taxes by $1 billion to make up the difference.
Let’s direct our attention to Governor Wolf’s spending "cuts." If the current budget is $80.1 billion and the Governor’s proposed budget cuts $2 billion in spending, the proposed budget should be $78.1 billion. Here is where the magical math comes into play. Instead of being $78.1 billion, the Governor’s proposed budget is $81 billion, an increase in spending of nearly $900 million. How does a $2 billion cut turn into a $900 million spending increase?
The purported spending cuts turn into a spending increase due to "baseline budgeting." In baseline budgeting, the previous year’s budget is the starting point and the next budget increases from that point by a certain percentage. In other words, politicians like Governor Wolf can claim they are cutting spending, but in reality, they are only increasing it by a smaller percentage than they wanted. It’s the equivalent of Orwellian newspeak. Governor Wolf and others rely on the ignorance of taxpayers to get away with it.
If the Commonwealth spent $2 billion less next year than they are this year, then there wouldn’t be any need to discuss tax increases. Please, contact Governor Wolf and the General Assembly immediately. Tell them that cutting spending means cutting spending and not making it grow more slowly.
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