The "Great Recession" is hitting Pennsylvanians hard and forcing us all to make choices that will impact our state for decades to come.

Many Pennsylvanians are out of work, facing intense fiscal hardships. Many others have had their hours cut back, their salaries cut, or their benefits reduced.

It is more important than ever that state government stretch every tax dollar as far as possible. That is why I introduced Senate Resolution 161 last year, to create a 10 member commission of public and private sector members, experienced in reviewing large budgets, to look for additional ways at reducing costs in state government, and that is why the Senate unanimously approved this idea.

As the new Chairman of this bipartisan Senate Government Management and Cost Study Commission, I want to hear your ideas.

The commission had its first meeting in February and will issue a report with recommendations by the end of June. We are holding public hearings and soliciting comments from everyday Pennsylvanians by email. (Please send your ideas to cuttingcosts@pasen.gov).

The 10 members of the commission are mostly from the private sector. In order to bring new ideas forward just two current government officials are on the commission.

At the commission's first meeting, we heard from a member of former Governor Dick Thornburgh's cabinet. Walter Baran, who served as Secretary of the Department of General Services, testified about his work in cutting costs during the early 1980's - another time of recession.

Secretary Baran set a great tone for our work, advising us to look for one-time savings - but also to focus on ways to permanently streamline state government.

There were no "sacred cows" in Secretary Baran's review, and there should be none today. The commission is now exploring ideas on how to cut costs in the Legislature, along with the Governor's Executive branch agencies and the Judiciary.

At our second hearing, Governor Rendell's top budget officials gave us additional information regarding reducing the administrative costs of state government. Future hearings will include testimony from other states on similar efforts and from the state Treasurer, and the state Auditor General - who has proposed numerous ways for the state to cut costs.

But our most important input will come from you.

We have already received more than 160 emails, with many ideas. Some of the suggestions include reducing the size of the legislature, cutting the number of vehicles in the state fleet, and selling the state-owned liquor stores. Many emails have included unexpected suggestions, giving the commission interesting and worthwhile ideas to explore.

So, keep those emails coming! The more feedback we get, the more helpful it will be.

(Senator David G. Argall is Chairman of the Senate's Cost-Cutting Commission. He represents the 29th Senatorial District, which includes all of Schuylkill County and parts of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe and Northampton counties.)