It’s important to address the concerns raised by Westmoreland Conservation District Board Chairman Ronald Rohall who authored a Sept. 21 commentary regarding the House- approved budget revenue plan, also known as the Taxpayer Protection Plan.
However, the information in Mr. Rohall’s article is not accurate, particularly his listing of area projects that he says will be jeopardized. Planned and ongoing projects that have monies reserved will continue as planned.
The purpose of the House plan is to establish a 2017-18 revenue package that fills a one-time, $1 billion deficit from the last fiscal year without raising taxes.
Compared to a Senate plan that relies heavily on tax increases including an increase on public utility bills and online purchases, the decision was easy for us. Pennsylvania is one of the most heavily taxed states in the union and our constituents expect us to work harder than to simply levy even higher taxes.
Instead of digging further into Pennsylvanian’s wallets, the Taxpayer’s Budget makes use of roughly $600 million in special accounts outside of the General Fund to address last year’s budget deficit. Among these special accounts, several have sat dormant for a number of years.
Mind you, the legislation does not impact next year’s funding sources. Nor does it bring any of these 38 special accounts to a zero balance.
In Mr. Rohall’s position, his primary concern is a special account known as the Conservation District Fund. It is funded by roughly $8 million through the state’s natural gas impact fee and a General Fund appropriation of just less than $3.5 million. The last two fiscal years ended with that account having more than $5.5 million.
The House proposal calls for $2.5 million of that account’s balance to be shifted back to the General Fund, still leaving $3 million. The annual $11 million that is allotted to the Conservation District Fund will be there again in 2017-18.
This is not to say that we don’t value the Westmoreland Conservation District’s work. They are a constant resource to our district offices for a variety of constituent concerns. The organization assists property owners and businesses of all sizes should they have to navigate the bureaucracies of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Furthermore, we respect Mr. Rohall’s selfless concern and years of dedication to the conservation district’s mission.
However, our respect for Mr. Rohall and the conservation district does not outweigh our responsibility to the taxpayers in our Commonwealth.
What’s more frustrating is that there is a budget deficit at all. It was easy to recognize that tax revenue during the 2016-17 fiscal year was going to be lower than the original projections. Therefore, the executive branch and department secretaries should have adjusted spending. Instead, the last fiscal year closed with a looming deficit and an artificially inflated sense of urgency to pay off last year’s debt with more “recurring” revenue.
We must remember that state government’s two largest revenue streams, the sales and use tax and the personal income tax, are consumer driven. Therefore, when Pennsylvanians are experiencing a growth in their personal wealth and the businesses that employ them are flourishing, Harrisburg will generate more revenue.
But if these consumer-based taxes are generating less revenue, it’s a clear demonstration that taxpayers are tightening their wallets. It’s unfathomable to increase taxes when the economy has slowed.
Instead, we encourage all state-funded agencies, including the Legislature, to spend as frugally as possible and prioritize their spending. In doing so, businesses and wage earners will grow and Pennsylvania’s revenue will recur at the existing tax rate.
Reps. Mike Reese (R-Mount Pleasant); George Dunbar (R-Jeannette); Eli Evankovich (R-Murrysville); Rep. Eric Nelson (R-Greensburg); Justin Walsh (R-Belle Vernon); and Ryan Warner (R-Lemont Furnace).
Westmoreland County Representatives
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jordan Frei