COMMENTARY: Senator: Legislature focus for 2012

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot



Members of the General Assembly have a unique opportunity to improve the quality of life in the communities they represent by supporting policies that promote a lively economy and ensuring taxpayer dollars are used wisely and efficiently. While the Legislature has made strides in several of these areas in 2011, we must show more progress on these issues in 2012 to help our communities thrive and grow.

We cannot make progress in 2012 without taking steps to strengthen our economy. The General Assembly took action to improve the jobs climate in Pennsylvania in 2011 by reducing overall state spending by more than $1.1 billion, one of the largest cuts in state spending in our commonwealth's history. Responsible state spending in the 2011-12 budget prevented the state from raising taxes on local job creators and community residents. We can make real progress toward a stronger economy by continuing this trend in 2012.

Improving our transportation infrastructure is one of the most important steps we can take to boost our economy. Transportation is one of the key factors for businesses when making decisions to relocate and expand, and we must make major improvements to our local infrastructure to attract and retain quality employers. The governor's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission recently provided recommendations that would devote additional resources to improving the condition of our highways and bridges, such as moving state police costs to the General Fund to dedicate more funding from the Motor Vehicle License Fund for critical transportation needs. I expect the General Assembly to study the Commission's report in 2012 and take action on a number of these recommendations.

To make progress toward a stronger state and local economy, we must also ensure the tax dollars we invest in education are spent on programs and initiatives that benefit our students. The General Assembly passed a number of mandate relief measures in 2011 that will free up more money to improve student performance in future years. We must also ensure that education dollars are not lost to waste or mismanagement. The Philadelphia School District recently bought out the contract of its superintendent for more than $900,000, using taxpayer dollars that would have been better spent in the classroom. I introduced legislation this year that would prevent a similar waste of resources by voiding a school district superintendent's contract when the school board votes to remove that individual from office. I am hopeful this measure will be considered in the Senate this year.

One of the General Assembly's most important duties is to protect against waste, fraud or abuse of public programs and services. The General Assembly showed considerable progress in this area in 2011 by enacting welfare reforms that will improve efficiency in the Department of Public Welfare, including new fraud detection measures to weed out those who are abusing the system. However, our work on this front is far from finished. We must ensure that the welfare reform measures enacted in 2011 are fully implemented in 2012. I have also cosponsored legislation that would prevent illegal aliens from receiving any public benefit that is reserved for legal state residents, such as public assistance programs or in-state college tuition rates. Passing the Proof of Citizenship for Receipt of Public Benefits Act would be another significant step to ensure our tax dollars can be devoted to programs that offer assistance to truly needy families.

All of these measures are vital to pave the way for progress not only in 2012, but also for future years and future generations. The investments and annual cost savings we identify today can have a major effect on communities far into the future, and it is critical to seize the opportunity this year to improve the quality of life for local residents by addressing our economy, education and government efficiency.