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Lawmakers critical of governor’s latest budget plan

Local lawmakers are less than supportive of Gov. Tom Wolf”s budget plans for next year calling for a more-than 4 percent increase in spending.

“It’s like most of these budget addresses: high on aspiration, but low on details,” state Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, said. “The governor needs to get his over-spending under control.”

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, referred to Wolf’s speech made before both Houses as “uninspiring.”

“There just was not much to it at all,” he said.

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, called it “deja vu” and a “lot of the same stuff.”

Wheeland said it’s unacceptable to propose yet another budget in which spending exceeds the rate of inflation and incoming revenues.

Everett said the question that must be asked is where is the money coming from to support the governor’s plan.

“This is our starting point,” he said. “This is his dream budget. He’s not going to get his dream budget.”

Everett and Yaw both questioned Wolf’s proposal to spend $1 billion to rehabilitate the state’s public school buildings, including those with asbestos problems.

After all, local school districts have been maintaining their buildings for the most part, they noted.

Yaw pointed out what he called inconsistencies in the governor’s budget proposals.

While he has no problem with additional education funding, he wondered why it doesn’t include dollars for technical education.

“Technical education is key for the middle class,” he said. “It’s important to our area.”

Everett noted that Wolf is once again proposing cuts to agriculture that lawmakers will likely restore to the budget.

Wolf renewed his call for a hike in the state’s minimum wage.

Wheeland said he needs to see precise details on that aspect of the governor’s proposal.

“It’s pretty much a non-starter,” Everett said. “It’s not popular with the majority of the House.”

Yaw noted that the minimum wage hike was passed by the Senate last year, while the House failed to act on it.

Yaw said he doesn’t disagree with the governor’s proposal to increase Department of Environmental Protection staffing, especially to monitor the state’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.

Wolf used part of his budget speech to address the need to stop gun violence. He noted that universal background checks work to stem such problems and stronger reporting requirements for lost and stolen firearms keep guns off the streets.

Wheeland said “the devil is in the details.”

“What exactly is he talking about?” Wheeland said. “We need to enforce existing laws.”

Everett said, “We already have background checks in Pennsylvania. Could we stiffen them up a bit? I’m not opposed to that.”

Yaw noted that the governor talks about making schools safer but in the past has removed funding from the budget for boosting security in buildings.

Not mentioned in the budget address, but a proposal Wolf supports, would be assessing a fee on residents of municipalities without their own police departments.

“”Those dollars would go to fund state police,” Everett said. “I don’t support that.”

Overall, Yaw said he believes “budget hearings are going to be very interesting this year, I think.”

Added Everett: “I think our general consensus is that spending increases are too high and borrowing money is not the way to go.”

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