Budget Stalemate Threatens Vital State Services

In speaking with local non-profit organizations, social service providers, school employees and others in recent weeks, I have heard a growing fear that the current budget stalemate will have serious consequences for community residents. This is the first time in more than 40 years that a Pennsylvania Governor vetoed an entire state budget, including important line items for essential government services.

It is unfortunate Governor Wolf made the knee-jerk reaction to reject the entire state budget, since there was considerable common ground. More than two-thirds of the budget line items were the same or more than the Governor requested in March.

Rather than moving forward on items on which we agreed and continuing to negotiate on others, Governor Wolf rejected the entire state spending plan. This decision holds up funding for welfare programs for children and youth, school programs for teachers and students, and human services for those with special needs.

It’s disheartening that Governor Wolf, unlike any other governor in decades, chose to hold hostage funding for these critical state services because the budget passed on June 30 didn’t include his demands for higher taxes.

Let’s set the record straight. Voters did not send the governor and lawmakers to Harrisburg to bicker and snipe at each other while state residents pay the price. We were elected to work together to help improve the lives of those around us. This cannot happen if the governor continues to insist, without compromise, on the entirety of a tax and spend plan that will burden working families and the businesses and industries that employ them.

One of the main points of contention is the Governor’s insistence on a severance tax — a short-sighted approach that will harm our communities. Non-partisan analysts found that the Governor’s proposal would create the highest severance tax in the nation. At current prices, the proposal would lead to an effective tax rate of more than 17 percent, a far cry from the 5 percent tax he supported during his campaign.

To make matters worse, the Governor ignores the fact that natural gas companies are already subject to a special tax. It’s called an “impact fee.” The industry has paid more than $850 million in impact fees since 2010.

To suggest that natural gas companies are not paying their fair share denies the hundreds of millions of dollars the industry generates annually through the impact fee for critical infrastructure projects, environmental programs, and money flowing into communities like ours benefiting from drilling activity. The severance tax proposal would chase good-paying jobs out of Pennsylvania, harm middle class families, and fail to deliver on our shared goal of providing more resources to the classroom.

Governor Wolf campaigned on the promise of increasing education spending without raising taxes on the middle class. The legislature passed a budget that accomplished both of these goals. We increased education funding by $370 million. This included increases for Special Education, Preschool, and Head Start programs across the state.

We must continue to pursue commonsense policies and not jeopardize education, job growth and economic development for the sake of political ideology. The Governor’s decision puts vital funding for state services at risk by unnecessarily vetoing the entire state budget, including funding for items where we agreed with his proposal.

The Governor did not have to do this—he could have only struck out areas of disagreement. I remain hopeful we overcome our philosophical differences and find agreement to fund schools, social service agencies and other programs without denying state services to those citizens who need them the most.

Camera Bartolotta represents Greene County and parts of Beaver and Washington counties in the state Senate. In 1988, she co-founded the Duke of Oil, an oil and lube service in Carroll Township.

CONTACT: Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463