It is nearly budget time again in Harrisburg and, once again, the governor has proposed a budget that clearly demonstrates his belief that we can tax, spend and borrow our way to prosperity. In his 2008-09 budget proposal, the governor wants to increase spending by $1.13 billion-that is 4.2 percent over last year's budget. That is above the rate of inflation. In fact, through four completed fiscal years, Gov. Ed Rendell has increased state spending at an average of 6.6 percent each year. Spending growth of this magnitude is simply unacceptable.To further illustrate the governor's apparent inability to craft a responsible budget, let us look at the growth in General Fund spending as it compares to the growth in revenues since the governor has been in office. Year after year, the governor is spending at a faster rate than the state is generating revenue. In fact, in his current budget proposal he is proposing to increase spending by 4.2 percent while only expecting a 3 percent growth in revenue.
If spending is allowed to continue outpacing revenue growth, sooner or later, the state will need to collect more revenue-in other words, raise your taxes. In fact, we can already see that trend taking hold in the governor's current budget proposal which includes $230 million in new taxes including a new tax on the purchase of cigars/cigarillos and smokeless tobacco products, an increase in the existing cigarette tax, a tax on homeowners' insurance premiums, an electricity usage tax which will cost taxpayers around $75 million annually, and slowing the phase-out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, which will cost Pennsylvania businesses $40 million.
But even the governor's $230 million in newly proposed taxes cannot cover the spending he has planned. So, in addition, he is calling for $4.37 billion in new borrowing to help finance the creation and expansion of several state programs and initiatives.
Estimates indicate it will cost the state nearly $7 billion to repay the $4.37 billion the governor wants to borrow. You don't need to be an accountant to know that when you are stuck in a hole, you stop digging! We are already paying nearly $1 billion annually from the General Fund on debt service. With debt service payments at that level, I am reluctant for us to take on more debt.
With some economists claiming that we are already in a recession and others predicting that a recession is on the horizon, I believe it is my responsibility as a lawmaker and steward of the people's tax dollars to support a fiscally responsible budget that holds spending to the rate of inflation, does not burden citizens with even higher tax bills, and does not saddle our children and their children with billions of dollars in additional debt.
The governor's proposed budget fails on all of those counts. His proposal raises doubts in my mind about the governor's commitment to the fiscal restraint he claims to support. I look forward to sitting down with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to craft a fiscally responsible budget of which we can all be proud.