It's that time of year again when the General Assembly and the governor come to the table to talk about what should and should not be included in the state budget. Unfortunately this year, like many previous years, there is disagreement on the amount and type of spending the governor is suggesting.
The governor has proposed a state budget totaling $25.4 billion, a nearly 3.8 percent increase over current year spending. I have problems with the extent of increased spending, some of the programs he has chosen to cut and expand, and the lack of any tax rollbacks for Pennsylvania residents.
One of the areas of the budget that concerns me the most is the increase in welfare funding. The governor has proposed a 3.48 percent increase, which totals $305.6 million more in spending on a program that we should be working to shrink, not expand.
Pennsylvania already has one of the best welfare programs in the nation. However, that does not mean we should be welcoming more people to join the ranks. Instead we should be working to expand job opportunities and help these individuals and families find quality employment. I am amazed that during a year when the governor has chosen to increase welfare spending to a whole new high, he has also chosen to slash funding for many job retention and creation programs by 14.2 percent.
In other related news, the unemployment rate in the state continues to decline. Pennsylvania's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent in December 2005, matching the national average. This means that more people are finding work; however, if his critical cuts to job creation and retention programs would take effect, we could experience slower job growth across the state.
As a state representative, I will be working to support continued funding for job creation programs, which will help supply more Pennsylvania families with sustainable income. I am pleased to report that Pennsylvania's monthly revenue collections are above and beyond the official estimates of the Department of Revenue, which boosts the state's year-to-date General Fund collections to more than $306.6 million ahead of projections.
This means Pennsylvania's economy is on the upswing. Thus far, the state's monthly revenue collections have been ahead of projections five out of seven months.
The Department of Revenue projects Pennsylvania will collect $24.99 billion in revenue this fiscal year. To date, Pennsylvania has already generated more than 52 percent of the projected figure.
Because we are experiencing larger revenue returns, a look at possibly rolling back taxes for Pennsylvania residents is a topic I think we should investigate. This was not mentioned by the governor as an area of exploration. However, I think that when the state is in good financial shape, we should either be putting more money into the Rainy Day Fund or providing Pennsylvania tax payers with a reduction.
The economy is strong and now is the time to reduce government spending and roll back taxes for Pennsylvania residents.
I will continue to be strong supporter of jobs, helping people get off of welfare and into good, family-sustaining jobs and seeking possible tax reductions for Pennsylvania taxpayers.
Hershey is State Representative, 13th Legislative District