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Exploring all avenues to save taxpayer dollars
As we enter the final days of the fiscal year, the state budget looms large as the highest policy priority for lawmakers and the governor. The spending proposal introduced by Governor Wolf has touched off an intense debate regarding the size of state government and the importance of fiscal responsibility. As we work to reach a consensus, we must be mindful that every dollar devoted to the state budget is paid by taxpayers. We cannot and should not spend more than is absolutely necessary to operate state government, and that means exploring every potential avenue for savings, including the Senate’s internal budget.
In recent years, we have seen a renewed emphasis on reducing operational costs in the Senate. In order to ease the overall financial burden on taxpayers, Senate staff have taken on additional responsibilities. Overall, since 2006, the Senate has reduced total appropriations by 10.66 percent. In fact, in 2013-2014 alone, we cut $1.2 million. Since 2008, the number of Senate employees has been reduced from 985 to below 800, a 19.4 percent reduction. Many state agencies have followed suit by declining to replace retiring employees and reducing staff complements over the past several years to hold the line on costs.
While these accomplishments are a good start, I believe we can do far more to safeguard the financial health of the state. A proposal I sponsored last year requires the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study cost-savings and the feasibility of consolidating school district health care plans. I believe if school districts were to pool resources together, they could get a better product at a lower cost to taxpayers. I’m pleased to inform you that the study is now underway, which I believe will provide a roadmap on how the state could save hundreds of millions of tax dollars annually.
Governor Wolf’s call for property tax cuts has given an even greater boost to my proposal to eliminate the property tax burden once and for all. No tax hits middle class families and low-income workers as hard as the property tax, and the time has come to permanently remove this burden from homeowners.
Another popular proposal recently generated positive movement in the House of Representatives – plans to trim the size of the General Assembly. Legislation sponsored by local Representative Jerry Knowles would reduce the size of the House from 203 members to 151, and companion legislation would cut the number of Senate seats from 50 to 37. Analysis of similar proposals showed the potential to save taxpayers up to $8 million a year. While this amount certainly won’t solve all of our budget woes, it would represent movement toward a leaner and more efficient state government. A recent editorial from the Reading Eagle and reprinted in the Times News supports Rep. Knowles’s efforts.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote in a letter to Congressional candidate Charles Clay, "You are too well informed a politician, too good a judge of men, not to know that the ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, that we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get."
Reducing overall costs to taxpayers is a commendable goal for which lawmakers must continually strive.
I am hopeful that my colleagues and I can work together in the coming days to make further progress toward this objective as we craft a state budget, address the pension crisis, eliminate the property tax and reduce the size of the legislature.