Rob Shearer: How government can help Pennsylvania prosper |
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Rob Shearer: How government can help Pennsylvania prosper

Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg Feb. 5 with House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny (left) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

As Pennsylvania employers and business owners, we regularly think long term. Whether expanding our companies, hiring new workers, planning capital investments or responding to economic downturns, we base decisions not simply on immediate benefits or drawbacks but on long-term results.

This isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary. After all, others’ livelihoods depend in large part on our commitment to considering long-term implications and making wise — and sometimes tough — decisions. Real families depend on us — and we take this seriously.

We expect this commitment of ourselves. We should be able to expect it of our elected officials as well.

With state budget hearings in the Legislature now complete, lawmakers will begin crafting a spending plan that focuses on issues such as education, jobs and the economy.

Certainly, such topics merit priority status, but all too often, lawmakers tackle these issues myopically. We’ve seen this time and again: balancing the budget via one-time borrowing and spending, thereby setting the stage for future budget shortfalls; doling out hundreds of millions of dollars in “economic development” grants despite long histories of documented failures reflected in a lagging economy; promising children a better educational future while rejecting ways to deliver on this promise. The list goes on.

Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers should stop adding to it.

As bills are introduced, issues debated, and votes cast, we call on our elected officials to embrace the following long-term perspectives:

Budgets reflect values

Few things demonstrate our values more than how we spend money. The state budget is not simply an accounting of revenue and expenses — it’s a statement of beliefs that speaks volumes about lawmakers’ commitment to ensuring a fair playing field, wisely stewarding taxpayer resources and empowering all Pennsylvanians to earn success.

Yet nearly every year, the state budget is cobbled together with little reflection on whether past spending choices proved wise or whether tax policy changes do more harm than good. For example, this fiscal year, Wolf again overspent the approved budget, this time by $495 million. Additionally, his proposed budget includes several hundred million dollars in one-time transfers, as well as dubious projections of revenue and savings. Job creators, families and individuals bear the brunt of such short-sighted budgeting.

A principled view of budgeting requires better.

Wolf and lawmakers can take specific steps toward budgeting for the future by rejecting quick fixes that lead to long-term problems, keeping spending within Pennsylvanians’ means and demanding accountability for every dollar spent.

Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce

A solid education is critical to a well-prepared workforce. Pennsylvania is home to some of the best public schools in the country. Unfortunately, it’s also home to thousands of children whose ZIP codes confine them to subpar schools.

Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship programs let businesses and individuals help low-income children access an education that meets their needs and prepares them for the future. Unfortunately, state government’s arbitrary caps on these programs limit our ability to help and deny tens of thousands of children the chance for a better education.

Such short-sighted limits have long-term implications for our state’s workforce and our economic growth. Wolf and lawmakers should abandon these limits and instead automatically increase available scholarships to meet demand — helping ensure today’s children are prepared to be tomorrow’s workforce.

Job creators want to create jobs

Pennsylvania expended enormous time and effort — not to mention offering $4.6 billion in taxpayer dollars — attempting to lure Amazon to the commonwealth. The promised pot of gold: 50,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, hundreds of businesses across Pennsylvania could easily create that many jobs and more if they weren’t hampered by one of the highest corporate income tax rates in the country along with onerous regulatory burdens that protect no one but hinder everyone.

Instead of showering politically favored businesses with hundreds of millions in corporate handouts year after year (we lead the nation in such handouts, at more than $800 million annually), Wolf and lawmakers should use this money to reduce our uncompetitive corporate income tax rate, empowering businesses to create more jobs, which will help grow our economy for the long-term.

The kickoff of a new state budget season is always replete with good intentions, but good intentions absent a long-term perspective are insufficient.

With Wolf’s second term underway and lawmakers shaping the commonwealth’s policy landscape, we hope they maintain a perspective that extends beyond their tenures in office. We hope they reject the temptation to patch surface solutions on systemic problems. And we hope they govern as if their choices will affect Pennsylvanians for generations to come — because in truth, they will.

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