Senator David G. Argall (R-29) and Representative Jerry Knowles (R-124) addressed state issues to about 60 people during the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast mixer held Thursday morning at the Tamaqua ABC Hi-Rise. Some of the discussion focused on the pro-jobs agenda in the Senate and House, welfare cuts and bills to be voted on when the General Assembly reconvenes in September.
Knowles' key notes involved around the submitted budget, the lack of a tax increase and getting the budget done on time. Knowles stated, "With that comes some pain. That pain is going to be shared by all of us."
Knowles mentioned that everybody is taking a hit and that is what is necessary to control spending. In response to his own questions "Why cut education? Why cut welfare?", Knowles pointed out that education takes up about 35 percent, welfare takes up about 39 percent and corrections take up about 7 percent of the state's total budget. Knowles added, "Governor Tom Corbett has done exactly what candidate Corbett said he was going to do."
Argall added this was the first time in 20 years that we were able to reduce the spending in the Department of Corrections.
Speaking about education, Argall said, "We were able to keep the state funding stable, but the federal government has given our school districts, through the state a couple billion dollars in stimulus funding, and that money ran out. There was no money in the state level to replace it."
Argall brought up that half the districts were able to get through this year without raising taxes, like Tamaqua, while others, like Palmerton, had an 11 percent increase to stretch their budget. He continued by pointing out one of the ways the Tamaqua School district could get through this without raising taxes was that recent KOZs have expired and brought in over $300,000 in new revenue that used to be tax free.
Chamber member Richard Balliet Sr. asked Argall, "Is there any way our politicians can tax online commerce, such as Amazon or EBay?" Argall replied that the Constitution's interstate commerce clause makes it difficult for states to move on it, mentioning that it will have to happen on a federal level.
Argall said, "We were coming out of the worse recession this country has seen since the 1930's. "Families were making less money, businesses were making less money." He pointed out income tax and sales tax receipts were down, business and individual taxes were down and we were buying less.
Argall said, "We had no choice. We had to balance the budget," opting that option versus raising taxes. He added just about every state agency took a cut. "We authorized the Department of Public Welfare and Governor to go in their budget, and without a lot of the regulatory hoops, they believe they can cut over $400 million" Argall stressed, "Not by hurting people who genuinely need state assistance. I'm not talking about the physically and mentally handicapped. I'm taking about people to which we believe that are receiving benefits today who are not really entitled."
Argall added that the auditor general believes there is $400 million in waste, fraud and abuse.
Argall stressed new cuts in the welfare system will come from stricter enforcement of the distribution of benefits instead of taking people off welfare. Knowles said the House has addressed welfare fraud via a bill that would require random drug testing for welfare recipients and prohibit "double-dipping" for benefits from county to county, thus requiring cross-check to determine eligibility and also to increase welfare fraud penalties.
Knowles added, "The governor wants to make sure people who are truly in need are taken care of," pointing out concerns by the governor we don't punish people who are truly entitled.