Pa. House Republican budget maven calls for reforms in 2023-24 budget process
Rep. Seth Grove highlighted accountability, transparency and integrity measures to fix the state’s budget process
State Rep. Seth Grove, the ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee, speaks during a committee meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023 (Capital-Star file).
With the constitutional deadline for the General Assembly to pass a budget just over seven weeks away, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations committee, Rep. Seth Grove, of York County, outlined areas of concern as budget negotiations begin.
Comparing Pennsylvania’s situation to the debt ceiling impasse in Washington, Grove said the General Assembly’s job is to figure out how to pay for ongoing costs while facing slowing revenue growth, a shrinking population and forecasts of a recession later this year.
While Republicans assert that the state faces a structural deficit, Grove noted legislation passed in the Democratically-controlled House so far this session would only increase unfunded mandates.
Grove cited bills that would extend federal workplace safety standards to public employees at a cost of nearly $55 million for the state and a grant program for schools to train new educators in-house.
“These are not provided for in the governor’s budget. So these are increased costs above and beyond what the governor has in his plan. So, to date they are adding to the structural deficit,” Grove said.
Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office said his budget proposal is a commonsense, fiscally responsible spending plan based on revenue estimates $3 billion less than the Independent Fiscal Office forecast.
Among the topics Grove discussed in his hour-long briefing for reporters were increased fiscal accountability and transparency for state agencies, fraud prevention, and tax relief for consumers.
House Republicans have introduced a slate of budget reform bills that would close a loophole that allows an unbalanced budget to become law; increase transparency related to special revenue funds such as liquor, tobacco and fuel taxes; and require the governor’s office to provide detailed information about allocations.
Grove also highlighted a bill introduced by Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-York, that would require the state’s largest agencies accounting for at least 20% of the budget to prepare zero-based budgets, rather than requesting increases based on the prior year’s allocations.
Shapiro and Budget Secretary Uri Monson used the process to erase a structural deficit when Shapiro was a Montgomery County Commissioner, Grove said.
In a House Appropriations Committee budget hearing last month, state Inspector General Lucas Miller testified that in 40% of the public assistance fraud investigations the Inspector General’s Office performs, the outcome results in a reduction or termination of benefits.
Miller later clarified that his office investigates only about 2% of applications for benefits. Grove added that 70% of those investigations concern SNAP food assistance benefits, leaving the majority of Department of Human Services programs with little scrutiny.
“I think we need to look at enhancing OSIG’s ability, add new individuals, to allow them to be proactive. A lot more proactive than what they are,” Grove said.
Shapiro’s budget includes a proposal to increase the property tax and rent rebate for seniors for the first time in 17 years from $650 to $1,000. The budget proposal includes $864 million for tax relief.
Grove said Republican lawmakers believe the state can afford to help more.
“We actually think there’s enough money at minimum to give everybody another $250 million. So the governor this year the budget Secretary could have certified over a billion dollars in school property tax relief for homeowners,” Grove said.
Shapiro’s office said in a statement the proposed expansion is an effective, responsible way to help Pennsylvanians dealing with inflation and rising costs.
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