Fiscal responsibility falls on the Democrats

Rep. Jake Wheatley is the Democratic Chairman of the House Finance Committee. He represents parts of the city of Pittsburgh.

On May 9, the House Finance Committee voted to approve legislation increasing funding for the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program (NAP) from $18 million to $36 million. While most of my fellow Democrats on the committee voted against the bill, every Democratic member who spoke at the meeting agreed the NAP is genuinely one of the most beneficial and worthwhile programs the Commonwealth offers. Their commentary expressed sincere support for the NAP and the desire to see the funding ultimately increased.

As the vote was taken, each were faced with a very difficult choice between their appreciation and support of the NAP, and their duties as responsible fiscal stewards of the Commonwealth. We were forced to make our choices in light of the recently revised estimate of a $1.2 billion budget deficit and knowing the House had already sent the Senate a budget with $850 million in cuts to everything from protecting the environment to social services to education.

As House Finance Committee members, the Democrats have been consistent with their message and their votes since day one. The committee’s priority is to consider how to best invest taxpayer dollars. Sometimes that means still saying no to a bill adding funding to a worthy program. This bill had no source of revenue identified to support the increase. Increasing NAP funding under these circumstances would simply take money away from another worthy program. That is not how the House Democrats envision their role as Finance Committee members.

Just two weeks prior to the NAP bill, a package of bills providing significant tax breaks under the guise of “small business reform,” came before the House Finance Committee spending well over $100 million annually without any prospects to increase revenue; House Democrats had to be responsible and vote no. 

Other recent committee votes that would cut taxes without additional revenue included an Inheritance Tax rate decrease and several new Sales and Use Tax exemptions. House Democrats were forced to do their elected fiduciary duty and vote no on those bills. This is why when legislation with a NAP funding increase came before the committee, without a plan to pay for the increase, many again made an extremely difficult decision with their vote.

The Democratic committee members were not voting against the NAP and it was not an attempt to stop the program from getting additional funding. It was a vote for being responsible fiscal stewards. 

In fact, the bill still moved on for consideration in the full House. When the budget discussion includes the means to pay for spending increases, the Democratic members of the Finance Committee will be the first to put up their votes for increased NAP funding.

The majority party determines the committee’s agenda and it is disappointing such a successful program was put in this position.