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Taxpayer watchdogs or special interest lapdogs?

More than two months after passing a spending plan for the 2017-2018 budget, state lawmakers still have not approved a revenue package to fund the budget.  In less than a week, the budget standoff in Harrisburg will turn into a budget crisis for Pennsylvanians.

On September 15, the General Fund will be running a deficit. If state lawmakers do not pass a revenue plan to fund the budget by that date, Governor Wolf will be forced to cut discretionary state spending by 12%. This would be disastrous for our public schools, which would experience massive cuts in the state subsidies they depend on to pay their bills.

Earlier in the summer, the PA Senate passed a bipartisan revenue package that is not perfect, but does contain new recurring revenues that are necessary to fund the 2017-2018 budget and avoid another costly credit downgrade for the state.

Leaders in the PA House have refused to vote on the Senate’s bipartisan budget.

Instead, a small number of representatives who call themselves the “Taxpayers’ Caucus” recently proposed an eye poppingly irresponsible budget that will hurt Pennsylvanians while protecting special interests.

Instead of proposing responsible new recurring revenues to fund the 2017-2018 budget, these so-called fiscal conservatives want to plunder special state funds that have been set aside pay for things that matter in our communities, including

  • environmental and hazardous waste cleanup,
  • mass transit and infrastructure projects,
  • volunteer fire companies, and
  • substance abuse and job training programs.

With this budget, self-proclaimed taxpayer watchdogs demonstrate a troubling fealty to special interest groups and betrayal of the taxpayers they claim to be defending.

They protect private/religious schools, wealthy horse owners, and natural gas drillers while raiding funds for public safety, environmental programs, and other things that matter in our communities.

“Taxpayers Caucus” lawmakers single out for protection $125 million in annual funding for two tax credit programs that are notorious for their absolute lack of transparency and accountability.

Every year, PA’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs divert $125 million in business tax dollars out of the state budget and into private organizations that provide private and religious school tuition subsidies to middle class families

Nearly $1 billion in taxpayer money has flowed through the EITC/OSTC programs since their inception and PA taxpayers know *nothing* about the academic progress of students who received this funding or how this funding was actually spent.

In Arizona, which has a similar taxpayer-funded private school tuition subsidy program, extraordinary examples of abuse and personal enrichment have been recently documented.

In PA, taxpayers cannot know if this level of abuse occurs because lawmakers refuse to require meaningful financial reporting from organizations that receive this funding. The state has never performed an audit of this program.

Also protected by the “Taxpayers’ Caucus” is a $250 million annual subsidy  for the race horse industry, 80% of which is used to increase purses of winning horses at PA racetracks.  Millions of dollars from this program are paid out to out-of-state millionaires and billionaires.

Rounding out the trifecta of special interests favored in the “Taxpayers’ Caucus” budget are Marcellus Shale gas drillers, who, of course, face no severance tax.

It is time for state lawmakers to stop protecting special interests and playing games with the state budget.  We need lawmakers to pass a responsible revenue plan to pay for the budget they already approved.