We need bipartisan leadership to solve our revenue impasse
As a seven-term member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, serving a decade on the Appropriations Committee and now as the Democratic chairman of the Finance Committee, I have seen and voted for or against many budgets. Over those years, both Republicans and Democrats have come together to vote for spending plans that use taxpayer dollars to fund all of the things citizens want from their government -- things such as education, roads and bridges, infrastructure, safety and security, economic development, affordable housing and so many other items in a multi-billion-dollar budget. Generally speaking, members have always supported this government spending either directly from the General Fund or through other special funds dedicated to specific priorities.
Despite the members’ willingness to vote for all of these spending priorities, the struggles always seem to show themselves on the revenue side of the equation. I believe both Democrats and Republicans must step up and show leadership, beyond the usual partisan politics, because that's where the rubber meets the proverbial road. Revenue is how we sustain and support those things we have all been so willing to vote for and spend on.
Our current budget situation is an interesting case study when you consider the ongoing battle between spending and revenue. We passed a $32 billion spending plan with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House. That said, if you were one of the 173 members voting in favor of this year’s budget, in years past, you would have been expected to be an automatic vote for the revenue package associated with paying for it. Because, normally, in folks' homes or businesses, they can't go out and get things like groceries, or in the case of a business, buy materials and services, without having the money or at least an idea on how they would actually pay that bill. Yet here we are in the General Assembly in just that position.
I should note, as the Democratic chairman of the Finance Committee, I am acutely aware of our lack of balance on the revenue side and knowing that the majority party is not willing to consider recurring revenue, I voted against this year’s budget. I have been calling for and am willing to make the difficult votes on sustainable and recurring revenue – I just wish my colleagues on the other side of the aisle were willing to do the same.
I find it disingenuous that the Republicans, who hold a significant 39-seat majority in the House, and are the same majority making the decision not to include the Democrats in most of the budget-related discussions, now stand and claim it is time for the governor and the Senate to lead. If you are in the majority and you can't get your own membership to fund the budget they overwhelmingly supported, then there certainly is a question of leadership, not to mention a curious case of hypocrisy.
We will never be able to find a resolution to issues as complex and challenging as the budget, and the revenues needed to support it, with just one party at the table. This process only works when all parties and stakeholders are willing to put their petty political posturing to the side and negotiate at the collective budget table in a manner that looks for compromises and commonality, rather than ideological and political grandstanding.
Our citizens are watching and they demand we do more than talk about the things they are expecting; they want us to actually get things done. The most basic act of passing a spending plan, as well as a revenue package that pays the bill in a responsible and sustainable manner, would be a great start.