Happy New Year! Save $1 million a day!

Posted on Thu 08/30/2012 by


Democracy Rising Pennsylvania ~

On September 1, it will be 122 days until New Year’s Day. At last report, the General Assembly continues to sit on a surplus of $122 million, and they gave none of it back to taxpayers for this year’s budget. Last year, they gave back $62 million of their $184 million surplus.

Whether you observe Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, the winter solstice, or any other mid-winter celebration, putting $122 million back in the state Treasury would be a good holiday present for taxpayers.

That’s a million dollars a daywithout having to cut anything.

Lawmakers often say that if they give the money back it will go to Philadelphia or some other purpose supposed to frighten or anger taxpayers. That’s a lie. Unlike its repository in the various House and Senate accounts, money in the Treasury can’t be spent unless the General Assembly appropriates it and the governor approves it. Once in the Treasury, the legislature and governor have to pass a law for it to go anywhere.

The Legislature’s Budget

The General Assembly is fully funded for this fiscal year. Click here  and then on “2012-13 Enacted Budget Line-Item Appropriations” for the final state budget.

The Senate’s budget is $93,098,000, including a $300,000 pay raise for senators. It also includes cuts of $500,000 in “incidental expenses” (5.3%), “legislative printing and expenses” (2.2%), and “caucus operations” (0.3%). Bottom line: an overall cut of $200,000, or 0.2%.

The House’s budget is $178,886,000. An increase of $1.4 million for the December 1 pay raise is offset by a $2 million (16.5%) cut in “legislative printing and expenses.” Bottom line: an overall cut of $600,000, or 0.3%.

The budget for 16 small agencies that exclusively or almost exclusively serve the legislature or are under its control is $40,970,000. This is a reduction of $928,000, or 2.2%, made possible by cutting the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) line item in half to $1.2 million.

Normally, there would be little or no expense in the year after re-districting. However, the plan proposed by the LRC was thrown out by the PA Supreme Court, which declared it unconstitutional. Click here  for that story.

The LRC has drafted a new plan, which also is being challenged before the Supreme Court. Arguments in the case will be shown live on PCN-TV  on September 13.

That’s a total for the Senate, House, and their agencies of $312,954,000, or $1.24 million per lawmaker.

With a budget like this, do they really need to have $122 million sitting around?
If the lawmakers intend to live within their means, why do they keep a surplus equal to almost 40% of their budget?
Why can the House cut 16.5% from legislative printing but the Senate cut only 2.2%?

Let’s ask the House and Senate to make a New Year’s resolution: Stop taking our money without giving us anything in return. Give the surplus back to the Treasury and resolve not to create surpluses in the future. Live with the law that applies to nearly everyone else in government: No surpluses.

When lawmakers return before Election Day, they can return our $122 million to the Treasury any day they choose. They just have to vote for it. It would be exceptional politics for incumbents and great precedent for a policy to do away with something that erodes public confidence.

I don’t know whose shoes lawmakers are walking in. Most taxpayers in Pennsylvania do not have a lot of disposable cashing lying around. They have to make tough budget decisions to run their households. The General Assembly should not be any different, especially in tough budget-cutting times and a slow economic recovery.

The greatest gift of holiday cheer that the General Assembly can give to taxpayers this holiday season is to return the $122 million surplus to the Treasury immediately, or at least by New Year’s Day.


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