Local lawmakers critical of proposed state budget

Shawn Hardy news@echo-pilot.com

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled his proposed $36 billion budget for 2020-21 that includes more than $2 billion in new spending.

State Rep. Paul Schemel and Sen. Judy Ward, Republicans whose districts include Greencastle and Antrim Township, both are critical of the Democrat's spending plan.

Wolf wants to create a major new program for college scholarships, require public schools to provide full-day kindergarten and pump $1 billion into cleaning up lead and asbestos in aging school buildings, according to the Associated Press. The governor is also is again proposing a fee for state police coverage.

Here's what the local lawmakers have to say:

  •  Rep. Schemel:

The $2.05 billion over the current year’s approved spending plan is unsustainable, according to Schemel.

Schemel wants spending to be aligned with his support for the Taxpayer Protection Act, a Commonwealth Foundation initiative to keep spending growth limited to the pace of economic growth.

“It is not feasible to think we can increase spending by 4.2% in a single year, well in excess of the rate of growth,” Schemel said. “As policy makers, we need to be mindful that we are entrusted with the taxpayers’ money.”

  • Sen. Ward:

“This budget contains more than a half-a-billion dollars in tax increases on employers and other things, although these are not broad based taxes any increase is concerning. If we agree to his billions in new spending and borrowing, a broad-based tax hike in future years is certain. We cannot add $1.5 billion or more to the state’s ledger and also add billions more in new borrowing without consequences. We need to take a closer look at how we can meet the basic responsibilities of government at a lower cost to taxpayers.

“I am deeply troubled that the governor wants to spend so much more, while at the same time cutting programs that our local communities rely on. Cuts to agriculture, regional cancer centers, school safety and other local priorities will have a negative impact on our region for years to come. I am particularly disappointed about the $4.3 million in cuts to the Department of Agriculture in light of the progress we have made over the past year to protect the future of farming in Pennsylvania. We should not jeopardize all of the hard work that went into helping our farmers.

“I also have deep concerns about the governor’s new tax on state police coverage. Previous versions of this plan would have forced rural communities to pay more for the same level of service, in spite of the fact that half of the state police’s calls come from communities that have their own local police force. The details about his plan are still murky, but we should not agree to any plan that serves as a cash grab against rural Pennsylvania.

“Our highest priority should always be to pass a budget that is responsible and sustainable. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the months ahead to accomplish our shared goals without adding new burdens on taxpayers – now or in the future.”

The 2020-21 budget must be approved by July 1.