Everett point about ‘spending problem’ hard to refute

State Rep. Garth Everett, a Muncy Republican who represents much of our region, is not happy with Gov. Wolf’s opening proposal of a $33.18 billion budget for 2018-19.

And he shouldn’t be, based on one number – 3.7 percent. That’s the amount of the spending increase Gov. Wolf is proposing. While state revenues are coming in as expected this budget year – a positive development – it’s foolhardy to expect them to increase by 3.7 percent next year.

Add to that the predictable increase in education – it happens almost every year – and there is only one way to support the growth in spending.

And that is taxes. Wolf is pushing a natural gas severance tax to generate $250 million, a debatable proposition that makes Pennsylvania less competitive in maintaining a natural gas presence within its borders when it already is levying an impact fee on the industry.

We know for sure that $250 million is not equal to 3.7 percent. At some point, this state needs to cut its spending in a bipartisan effort. It is spending $12.5 billion on public education and $12.8 billion on health and human services, about 70 percent of the budget, so it’s not as if priorities are not being honored. The question is how much the state can afford to honor those priorities.

The first thing leaders of both parties should do is take a hard look at the details behind a discovery last year that there were surplus funds in many departments of the budget. That’s an incorrect fiscal posture, given how much the budget has been increased in the past two decades and how much Pennsylvanians have paid for those increases, usually at the end of protracted, politicized budget impasses.