The more the budget rhetoric changes, the more it stays the same | Opinion

March 5, 2019 6:30 am

The Capitol building in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo)

By Mike Folmer

Which governor of Pennsylvania addressed the General Assembly with the opening:  “this is a historic day”?

Former Pa. Gov. Raymond P. Shafer in Bucks County in 1967. Photo by Ronald Dale Kerr – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0WikiMedia Commons

This governor went on to add:  “for you are receiving the most innovative, long-range financial plan ever presented to a legislative body in the United States.”

“In no other budget, will you find the new approaches we are taking to solve the fiscal crisis of our Commonwealth – a crisis that is faced by every other state and local government across this Nation.”

Labeling his budget as “truth in spending,” the governor promised:  “no longer will we look at programs and their cost from year-to-year, avoiding the realities of the future.”

“This is without a doubt a major step in the ‘truth-in-spending’ plan we began last year for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania – a plan that requires that we show the people the future price tag of programs that are undertaken, together with the necessary revenues to pay for them.

“This financial plan will put an end to unplanned and uncontrolled spending.  Now we will have a better comprehension of where we are headed in the financial woods of government.

“We hear citizens complain that they need better highways; better schools, colleges, universities and more financial assistance for their children; better mental hospitals and programs for those of their family afflicted by mental illness; better nursing homes for their aged parents; more welfare assistance for their children; more money for cleaning up the streams for purer water and better fishing; increased assistance to their local governments for better housing, recreation and transportation; expanded industrial development programs to give them better jobs.

“At the same time, when the subject of providing the tax revenues to pay the bill is discussed, these same citizens complain that the price is too high – ‘cut other appropriations but leave mine alone,’ they say.

“We are told that the education systems of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other cities cannot survive without huge new injections of State assistance.

“This is no small problem, ladies and gentlemen of the General Assembly.  For many of those who advocate spending more, all too often, fail to support the measures that raise the money to pay the price.”

This same governor went on to note that the major drivers of the Commonwealth’s budget at that time were education (56 percent) and health and welfare (23 percent).  The remaining 21 percent of the state budget went to all other programs and services, including moneys for colleges, hospitals, and pensions and benefit costs for state employees.

That governor went on to tout the cost reduction and efficiency efforts of his Administration:  “We have made some great strides.”

Computerization, consolidation of services, and merger of departments and agencies were specific examples he cited.

He then outlined the options to pass a balanced state budget:  “cut back, stand pat, or go forward.”  The governor opted for the latter, calling for new revenues.

However, while he provided a list of existing Pennsylvania taxes, he made no specific recommendation for which one(s) to increase, and pledged:  “I stand ready to work and cooperate with you.”  He hoped work on the budget would begin “with dispatch so that we can arrive at an agreement before the end of the fiscal year.”

Other than the budget figures, it appears the rhetoric never changes.  The Governor of that era proposed a $1,421,398,000 state budget – an increase of $296,977,000 over the previous year (over 26%).  However, the Commonwealth needed $492,593,000 in new revenues to pass a balanced budget that year.

Who was the governor quoted?

Answer: It was Gov. Raymond P. Shafer, January 28, 1969.

State Sen. Mike Folmer, a Republican, represents the 48th Senate District, which includes parts of Dauphin, Lebanon and York counties. He writes from Harrisburg. 

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