Saturday, June 02, 2007

Reformers Want A Harrisburg 'Diet'


Reformers Want A Harrisburg 'Diet'

By: Bradley Vasoli , The Bulletin


Whether "the era of big government," in Bill Clinton's words, is indeed over, it lingers on in Pennsylvania.

The free-market Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives reports that between 1970 and 2006, state spending rose 160 percent. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania ranked 49th in job growth, 45th in personal income growth and 48th in population growth among all states in the U.S.

Now the Foundation and its allies in the General Assembly are taking action to reverse course.

State Senate Republicans have garnered enough votes to pass their Taxpayer Protection Act as both a statute requiring Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's signature (SB 7), and as a state constitutional amendment requiring approval by voters (SB 707). The measure would restrict spending growth to the inflation rate plus the percent change in Pennsylvania's population over the three preceding years.

The Commonwealth Foundation has joined the bills' respective sponsors, Bob Regola (R-Westmoreland) and Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin, Lebanon, Lancaster, Berks and Chester), in championing their passage, and has launched a new campaign to encourage popular support for spending restraint.  "We want to educate people about the overspending in Harrisburg and why that is detrimental to the average Pennsylvanian," Foundation president and CEO Matthew Brouillette said.

Calling it The Pennsylvania Diet Plan: Three Steps to Fiscal and Economic Health, the Foundation will advertise its Web-based educational effort via turnpike billboards and radio commercials. The ads will tell Pennsylvanians to put their government on a "spending diet" and will direct them to on which the Harrisburg-based think tank outlines three steps to fiscal health:
* "Limit the Annual Growth in State Government Spending."
* "Empower Voters with the Right to Accept or Reject ANY and ALL Tax Increases."
* "Reduce Pennsylvania's Tax Burden on Job Creators & Families."

The site urges support for the Taxpayer Protection Act as well as HB 1100, which would require voter approval for any increase in property taxes.

Ultimately, Brouillette said, large-scale tax reduction cannot happen in Pennsylvania unless the tide of high spending is reversed. He says public expenditures on business projects, critically referred to as "corporate welfare", spur much antagonism on the federal level but in Harrisburg receive less attention. He points out that Rendell has allocated funding for a host of such projects under the Governor's Action Team (GAT).

Since Rendell took office in 2003, state spending increased 28 percent. Much of this additional spending comprised Rendell's "investment" of tax dollars in corporate projects with an eye toward creating jobs.

Some beneficiaries of GAT largesse last year include Target Corporation, receiving $2,250,000 for a project in Union County; Kraft Foods, getting $450,000 for a project in Lehigh County; and Lutron Electronics Co., Inc., receiving $14,250,000 for a project in Lehigh Coutny. GAT says these three projects created 1,100 jobs in total.
Brouillette emphasizes that taxpayers are forced to finance such projects every year, at a substantial cost. The Commonwealth Foundation furthermore reports that while state spending has increased under Rendell's administration by 28 percent, Pennsylvania has ranked 40th in job growth, 35th in personal income growth and 42nd in population growth among all other states in the U.S.

Brouillette said that getting state legislators to see any folly in encouraging these GAT grants and other special projects for their districts has been difficult.

"Everybody's got their hand in the pot," he said.

But he says he has found, when speaking with many General Assembly members about their role in encouraging these spending projects, many believe they were not right to do so. Moreover, the Taxpayer Protection Act has 28 cosponsors while 27 votes are needed to pass, signaling to him that Republicans may be serious about desiring a leaner state government.

Neither Brouillette nor Folmer envision the governor signing the act, but Folmer says the constitutional amendment version may very well pass the House if a few members of its Democratic majority come on board.

"I do believe we can get legs in the House with that," Folmer said. "Those who are against it are against any kind of limits on government spending."

Every Senate Republican is listed as a cosponsor of the act, except for Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery and Bucks) and Robert M. Tomlinson (R-Bucks). Lisa Boscola (Monroe, Northampton and Lehigh) is the only Democrat cosponsoring the measure. Brouillette described Boscola as a standout in her party for her advocacy of fiscal restraint.


Bradley Vasoli can be reached at



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