House Bill 218, the unbalanced, cuts-only budget that House Republican leaders fast-tracked through the lower chamber in a near party-line vote last week, has provoked plenty of criticism. Not surprisingly, Democratic legislators decried the many cuts that accompany a budget that reduces total expenditures by 1% over the current fiscal year.
The absence of a plan for raising revenue to close the $3 billion structural deficit — itself a product of years of irresponsible budgeting — and to fund even this austere spending plan earned it a “Point of Order” column from Capitolwire’s Bureau Chief, Chris Comisac, with the headline, “A little more transparency in the House GOP budget proposal would be nice.” Advocates for quality childcare and pre-K education protested the significant reductions to these vital programs, noting that HB 218 not only cuts the minimal increases proposed by Governor Wolf, but the House GOP budget actually reduces investment in childcare by $28 million over last year’s budget.
But the harshest criticism of the budget passed by House Republicans came from a somewhat unlikely source. See if you can guess who expressed these “grave concerns” about HB 218:
“Far from being a ‘no-tax-increase’ budget and far from being a document that provides a path forward for the commonwealth, it instead represents a continuing pattern of the state failing to meet its full responsibility to its service delivery partners and its citizens most in need. The proposal contains sweeping cuts in funding for human services, criminal justice, and administrative programs … Funding is a tangible reflection of policy choices, and so the array of cuts being proposed signals the commonwealth’s failure to recognize its commitment to needed support and needed reforms … Plainly and emphatically, the lack of adequate funding from the commonwealth will mean local tax increases to maintain services. This is clearly not a no-tax-increase budget. Any vote for this budget is a vote for property tax increases.”
Did you guess “Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center?” Granted, it sounds a bit like something we might say. But it’s not.
Maybe you thought it was Governor Wolf. It wasn’t. Our Democratic governor responded to the House budget diplomatically, saying, “It’s a good starting point.”
Some contingent of the “Bernie Sanders for PA” campaign? Again, understandable. But wrong.
No, this response to the House GOP Budget came from a bipartisan group of elected officials: the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. If anything, the CCAP skews conservative, with more county governments in the state under Republican control. Like state representatives, they are accountable to the local communities that elect them, and they are not interested in raising taxes any higher than is necessary. Unlike members of the state House, though, they are willing to acknowledge that the services that are needed to maintain the health and well-being of their communities come with a price tag. County Commissioners also differ from state lawmakers in that the options available to them to raise necessary funds are very limited. While the General Assembly can generate revenue through a broad range of options and combinations, the primary means available to county governments is local property taxes. And when members of the legislature refuse, for ideological reasons, to consider ways of fairly raising revenue — enactment of a gas drilling tax like every other major gas-producing state; closure of tax loopholes that allow the wealthiest corporations to get a free ride at the expense of individual taxpayers; or implementation of the Fair Share Plan (SB 555) that would fix our upside-down tax system by giving a tax break to most working Pennsylvanians and ensuring that the super-rich begin paying their fair share — County Commissioners are forced to pay for for the services their communities need by raising property taxes.
County Commissioners of both parties are able to see through the “no tax increase” boasting of their fellow elected officials in the General Assembly and recognize the House GOP budget for the irresponsible sham that it is. The question is: when will the constituents that they all serve begin to recognize it, too, and insist that their state legislators start doing their jobs?