Sen. Eichelberger gets an earful at Town Hall meeting
Area citizens disenchanted with the 2015-2016 Pennsylvania budget, or lack thereof, attended a Town Hall meeting sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger Jr. Thursday evening. Appproximately 40 people from Greencastle and neighboring communities kept Eichelberger long past his hour commitment.
The Republican senator for District 30 hosted the event at Besore Memorial Library to give an update on the state budget. The conservatively-controlled House and Senate had presented three packages to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. He vetoed the June 30 version in its entirety, the first time in forty years that had occurred. Wolf killed the emergency spending budget in September and then in December made line item vetoes to key features of the appropriations bill.
“It doesn’t look like we are making a lot of progress,” said Eichelberger. “I wish Wolf had made the line item vetoes in June. We could have worked through them.”
Now the governor was exercising “budgetary malpractice,” he added. Wolf was creating a 2016-2017 budget based on what he hoped to get this fiscal year.
Eichelberger pointed out the problems caused by the not-yet-final budget, which meant delayed payments to numerous entities. He was grateful no one had died because of the budget shutdown.
Wolf’s veto cut the prison budget in half, but the state treasurer was continuing to pay bills in the interest of the health, safety and welfare of the inmates as well as Pennsylvania residents. But there was an effect to that move, according to the senator.
“Now Wolf is spending beyond what was appropriated. That makes the budget almost useless.”
Eichelberger was also concerned that Wolf was moving money around between funds, but had promised to “make it square” later.
He said the money crisis could cause the General Assembly to be shut down this year, too.
State employee pension obligations were a major piece of the educational funding issue, as well as the Hold Harmless regulation which limited reimbursement to growing school districts like Greencastle.
Eichelberger said that, unfortunately, most of the 22 districts in his territory did not want the formula to change because they would lose money.
“I have said it has to be fair,” Eichelberger continued. “You have to do what’s right.”
He said the main cause of the underfunded PSERS obligation was stock market performance. The state was also not paying enough into the system.
Finally, the benefits were too generous and the increase in perks in 2001 was “a very stupid move. Even more stupid, they made it retroactive.”
He concluded, “We’ve got to change the system and get it under control.”
Greencastle borough council member Duane Kinzer declared, “That the state budget is not passed is criminal.”
Visitors gave their opinions about real estate taxes funding education versus sales and income taxes. They compared the value of defined benefits in PSERS to defined contribution programs, as the two affected taxpayers directly.
G-A school board director Paul Politis was curious about the budget situation. He was frustrated with the situation and placed blame on both parties.
“These guys sound like they make sense when they are talking, but at the same time, there is no excuse not to find a way to get along. The legislature costs $300 million a year to run. What are we getting for it?”
Eichelberger left with a positive impression of the meeting.
“It was a good night. Everyone got a good sense of my opinions.”
As for the stalemate in Harrisburg, “When schools start to close, the governor may react.”