To anyone, $3 billion is a lot of money — that’s what’s needed to balance Pennsylvania’s state budget.
As stewards for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, the Legislature is responsible for making sure that your hard-earned money is spent in your best interest and for the greater good of the commonwealth and that the tax burden is carried both equitably and fair. Being almost $3 billion in the red shows that Pennsylvania obviously has a revenue problem. Either someone’s not paying enough or the commonwealth needs to find new revenue.
Fiscal responsibility is about making proper investments, because you can’t cut your way to prosperity. And let’s not forget that Republicans want to shift costs from the state to local governments, which means an increase in your local taxes and possible slashing of local services that many of your neighbors rely on. Republicans simply cannot have the mantra of lower taxes without taking ownership of the problems they have created by cutting programs that affect middle-class Pennsylvanians.
A few revenue options are on the table, but they’ve received a cold shoulder from the Republican majorities that control the House and Senate. I think residents across Pennsylvania would rather see marijuana legalized and taxed, as other states have done to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Over 80 percent of Pennsylvanians believe we should enact a fair severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural-gas drillers, similar to what they are paying in every other state where they conduct business. We also should eliminate the tax loophole that allows businesses to set up shop in Delaware to avoid paying their fair share of taxes here. If we enacted those changes, there would be no need to increase either the state sales tax or personal income tax.
We can achieve a responsible budget that makes smart investments in programs that preserve and create jobs and that help our most vulnerable residents, but the Republican Party of “no new taxes” refuses to make the tough decisions. The Republicans would rather local school boards and city councils be forced to raise your taxes than to do their job and bring fiscal stability to the state’s checkbook.
For almost the entire last 25 years, Pennsylvania has had a Republican-led Legislature, and administration after administration has been bailed out by Democratic minority votes in the House and Senate. The time has come for the Republican majorities to carry the load themselves. Time and time again, they have used our Democratic votes to balance the state budget and then they use it against us in the next election cycle.
Today, with only 82 Democrats in the House and 16 in the Senate, there aren’t enough of us so-called “tax-and-spend liberals” to fix this $3 billion deficit that was created by too many onetime Republican budget gimmicks. It’s time for the 121 Republicans in the House and 34 in the Senate to stop being the party of fiscal hypocrisy and finally put Pennsylvania’s coffers back in the black again.
Marty Flynn is a state representative from Lackawanna County.