State GOP hold press conference on budget

In this Feb. 5 file photo, Senator Joe Scarnati (center) takes part in a Senate and House Republicans press conference. A federal appeals court on Wednesday reversed a judge’s decision to make him personally pay $29,000 in legal bills for lawyers who successfully challenged Pennsylvania’s congressional districts as unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

HARRISBURG — Responding to Governor Tom Wolf’s annual budget address Tuesday in Harrisburg, Senator Joe Scarnati (R-Brockway) said he will work to pass a fiscally responsible state budget that controls spending, holds the line on new taxes and continues to invest in education and job-creation.

As President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Scarnati has led efforts in past years to prevent higher taxes and more spending, stressing that Pennsylvania must live within its means and protect taxpayers. He said that philosophy has contributed to job growth and a healthier economy.

“Given that the economy in Pennsylvania has never been stronger, the reality of our fiscal situation is that we must reduce the proposed spending for 2019-2020,” Scarnati said. “I remain committed to a budget that respects taxpayers while helping continue to foster job growth and economic development across our Commonwealth. It is imperative that we continue to look for reforms and ways to make government more efficient, instead of looking for ways to spend more tax dollars.”

Scarnati said the governor’s budget proposal provides a good starting point for discussion and debate, and is pleased that the governor is not requesting a broad-based tax increase this year. However, Wolf is continuing to push for a Marcellus Shale extraction tax and a fee for municipalities that rely on the state police for local police coverage.

The governor outlined his 2019-20 state budget Tuesday during a joint session of the House and Senate in Harrisburg.

The proposed budget, at $34 billion, is 2.8 percent higher than the current year and does not call for any increases in the state income or sales taxes. It seeks to invest more in workforce development, add more to basic education funding, lower the Corporate Net Income Tax and help with small agriculture producers.

Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest) said she is pleased that the governor’s budget proposal reflects the priorities of the people of 63rd District and rural Pennsylvania and is optimistic that a balanced state budget, which is responsive to the needs of local residents, can be passed without a tax increase and on time.

“I’m glad to see that the governor is proposing a number of investments in areas important to us, namely workforce development, education and agriculture,” Oberlander said. “We all know that good schools and good jobs are key factors in strong families and strong communities. We recognize that we must reduce barriers to job creators to allow our economy to prosper. We want to provide avenues for our residents to achieve higher-paying jobs. Businesses do best when we give them flexibility, and that continues to be our goal.”

Oberlander noted that while the governor’s speech was mostly well received, details of the spending plan are still being reviewed. She intends to look more closely at a local fee for state police coverage and other initiatives recently announced by the administration.

“The governor set a positive tone today – one that most of us certainly agree with – because we all have the same goal,” Oberlander added. “We want our families, our communities and our Commonwealth to succeed.”

Scarnati noted that the Senate will begin a three-week series of Departmental Budget Hearings on February 19. The hearings provide an opportunity for the Appropriations Committee to hear cabinet secretaries and other Administration officials detail their plans for the upcoming fiscal year. The state’s current fiscal year ends on June 30.

Public hearings by the House Appropriations Committee on the 2019-20 spending plan begin on Monday, Feb. 11.

“Last year, the legislature passed historic state investments in public education,” Scarnati said. “I am glad the Governor supports additional funding for K-through-12th grade, special education, Pre-K and Head Start programs as well as higher education.”

Scarnati said he is concerned about Wolf’s plan to cut funding for school safety grants by $15 million, or 25 percent.

“The School Safety and Security Committee has received over $300 million in requested funds from schools for safety provisions which are vital to keeping our schools and students secure,” said Scarnati, who pushed hard for funding of the program as part of last year’s budget. “Keeping our schools and students safe from threats and violence is crucial and so is funding for that effort.”

Scarnati also raised questions about proposed cuts to programs benefitting veterans, agriculture and rural health initiatives, saying he will look closely at restoring funding for these programs and services.

“Overall, I see this proposal as a good building block from which we can debate and negotiate a fiscally responsible state budget that funds core services without tax increases and massive spending increases,” he said.