Knowles, Heffley, Harhart give statements on budget passage
State Representatives Jerry Knowles, Doyle Heffley, and Julie Harhart have issued the following statements on the passage of the state budget:
Rep. Jerry Knowles
"I am glad that we were able to complete the budget process on time. I am also pleased that for only the third time in nearly 40 years, this budget spends less than the previous year's budget. This budget spends over $1 billion less than last year, eliminates many wasteful and unnecessary government programs and does not include any or new borrowing.
"Since I was elected, I have been saying we need to stop spending money we do not have and start living within our means. Unfortunately, during that time, state spending has increased well beyond the rate of inflation and we now find ourselves with a $4 billion budget deficit. We have more than $50 billion in outstanding liabilities including underfunded pension systems and federal unemployment compensation debt, among others.
"I am particularly happy that this plan continues the phase out of the capital stock and franchise tax. By eliminating this tax, we will make Pennsylvania a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs.
"I am also pleased this budget spends less on the Department of Welfare than proposed by the governor. We need to continue to work with him to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in DPW while continuing to provide a safety net for those who are truly in need.
"I voted for this budget because I view it as a good step toward bringing our spending back under control. This is the kind of budget Pennsylvania needs if we are going to get our finances back in order."
Rep. Doyle Heffley
"I'm pleased to be a part of the first budget in eight years to pass on time. Because of the loss of nearly $3 billion in federal stimulus money and a structural deficit of about $4 billion, it has been a difficult process, which has required shared sacrifices. This budget reduces General Fund spending by a 4.1 percent. It's sobering, but rewarding to be able to report that we passed a fiscally sound budget that does not raise taxes, yet still funds essential services.
"This is a budget to build on. The people I have talked to seem to understand that tough choices needed to be made. Overall, this budget is more transparent than any previous budget. The Legislature has reduced its appropriation by $15.5 million from last year and eliminated WAMs.
"This budget holds the line on wasteful spending and reduces the Department of Welfare budget by $400 million below the governor's original proposal, while at the same time providing $55 million to hospitals and human services programs including, neonatal care, cancer screening, trauma and burn centers.
"I'm proud to have fought to restore $100 million to the Accountability Block Grant for school districts to spend as they see fit for programs including pre-K or all-day kindergarten programs. This bill funds higher education and state universities so working class families can afford to send their children to college.
"We worked to ensure that funding for agriculture and Penn State Cooperative Extension programs was included. These funds are vital to farmers and small businesses in Carbon County.
"This budget also addresses job creation by continuing to phase out the Capitol Stock and Franchise Tax, which will save $70 million and encourage job creation. We have also approved tax credits for job creation and research and development to help improve the job climate in the Commonwealth.
"In the weeks following the budget's passage, I will make myself available to talk to the people I represent at town hall breakfast meetings. I will go door to door to explain the budget and why the tough choices we made were necessary. I want to hear the comments and concerns of the people I represent as we move forward to address other legislative matters this fall, such as Marcellus Shale impact fees.
"We must remember that each program that receives state money is funded by taxpayers, so we must be guardians of those dollars and reduce costs when there simply isn't enough revenue being raised."
Rep. Julie Harhart
"This week, I voted in favor of a $27.15 billion state budget which reduces state spending and contains no tax increases or new borrowing.
"Facing mounting debt, coupled with the loss of billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds, the crafting of this year's budget was challenging to say the least. However, we have managed to approve a budget that spends 4 percent less than the previous fiscal year, while providing more state dollars than ever before for K-12 education.
"Education represents 34 percent of the entire budget 2011-12 state budget, or $9.59 billion.
"Although I have heard from many schools that are feeling the pinch from the loss of $3 billion in federal stimulus money, the state is dedicating more money to school districts than at any other time in history. In addition, we have been able to restore $100 million for the Accountability Block Grants that allows schools to spend the money as they see fit.
"When it comes to higher education, the State System of Higher Education will be funded at 82 percent of its current funding level; state-related universities will receive 81 percent of current funding; and community colleges will receive 90 percent of current funding. Furthermore, college-bound students will benefit from a $50 million contribution from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency to the state's General Fund to supplement the Pennsylvania State Grant Program. The supplement is expected to increase the maximum State Grant Program award by about $700, from $3,541 to $4,309 per student.
"The Department of Public Welfare will receive a 1 percent increase over last year's appropriation, or $10.5 billion. Several welfare reform bills have passed the House which will help drive down costs for the department.
"Through several investigations, waste, fraud and abuse were found to be taking place within the Department of Public Welfare at unacceptable levels. This agency was created to help those who truly need it, and instead we have many people taking advantage of the system and driving up costs. New reforms are starting to address these issues, while this year's budget still makes sure enough funding is in place to provide help to eligible residents.
"Pennsylvania, like many families, was hit hard by a depressed economy. Although recent revenues have exceeded expectations, this is not sustainable revenue and, therefore, it would be irresponsible to spend on recurring programs. The truth is, Pennsylvania is facing a total of $50.5 billion in liabilities, due to outstanding debts, pension liabilities, unemployment compensation repayment and the payback of funding to an MCare account that the previous governor raided. Therefore, we need to be conservative in using any so-called 'surplus' money.
"Although there are many worthwhile and important programs that deserve funding in the state budget, we needed to be cautious in our spending plan this year and put Pennsylvania back on sound financial footing."