1. Annual increases in spending by state, county and local governments, including school districts should be constitutionally limited to the rate of population growth plus inflation, or a similar index - except during declared emergencies or when the voters, via referendum, approve of the limit being exceeded.
Capping spending to a reasonable index of inflation and population is a solid first step in ending government's addiction to spending. It's only the first step, because the larger issue is confining spending to core government functions - nothing more. The goal should be for more efficient spending not more spending. The state and federal constitutions provide a reasonable guide for our spending obligations.
2. Pennsylvania should reduce taxes on all citizens. According to the Tax Foundation, Pennsylvania's state and local tax burden ranked 24th highest in the nation in 1991, 17th highest in 2002, and 11th highest today.
Reducing the tax burden on Pennsylvania's families and job creators is an absolute imperative - and overdue. Cutting taxes is about fairness, competitiveness, fiscal prudence, and above all this is the overarching idea that the money saved and earned by citizens is private property - it does not belong to the government.
3. Pennsylvania should not incur additional taxpayer debt. Since 2002, state debt increased 78% to more than $41 billion. In 2009, total state and local debt stood at $116 billion - over $36,000 per family of four.
The triple economic threat to Pennsylvania's fiscal health is the combination of high taxes, runaway spending and mounting debt. Beyond those three, the failure to reform the legal and labor climate has accelerated the downward slide. But let's be clear, it's been a failure of both parties to confront the reality that in good and lean economic times, just because a state has access to a line of credit does not justify incurring debt. The next governor has an obligation to end a bipartisan era of wild debt and spending.
4. Pennsylvania government should put all expenditures of taxpayer money online for easy viewing by citizens - similar to 26 other states.
Absolutely a must. Technology is forcing real cultural changes in government, but the past of that transformation is slow. It's slow because of prevailing political fears that the more access the public has to government - the greater the threat to exposure and ultimately the prospect of re-election. What Jim Christiana and other young leaders are proposing is dramatic change for government, but far behind the private sector. Let's open the doors and trust the people. They can handle the truth.
5. Voter approval via public referendum should be required for all state and local tax and fee increases, similar to taxpayer provisions in other states.
This is one of those reforms that I regret to say has become necessary. Simply put, state and local governments have abused their power to tax. It's time that another wall of protection is placed between the citizen and higher taxes.
6. Tax dollars for education should follow the child. As long as Pennsylvania taxes citizens for public education, children should be able to choose a public or private school for K-12th grade, as they can for higher education.
When I authored and helped win passage for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) in the Ridge Administration it was an experiment. We were building a new model for education based on the premise that a zip code should not determine the quality of child's education. Today, this pilot program is a proven, national leader in the movement for educational excellence through choice. As governor, ending the one-size-fits-all approach to public education has nothing to do with politics - because the politics is hard. School choice is about doing the right thing for Pennsylvania's parents and their children.
7. Labor unions should be legally prohibited from forcing workers to pay dues or fees as a condition of employment.
I've seen so many political "conversions" to conservative, free-market principles over the years, mostly centered on a broad commitment to reducing taxes or cutting spending. One of the major areas however, that is almost always left off the list is the right of an individual worker to join, or not join, a private organization - in this case a union. As the son of a union steelworker, I understand the importance of safeguarding the rights of workers, but any time a union's right to organize in the private sector supersedes an individual's rights, the governor and the legislature have an obligation to right that wrong.
8. Pennsylvania should repeal current Prevailing Wage laws that apply to taxpayer-funded construction projects because they increase labor costs upward of 30% more than the average Market Wage in a community.
Prevailing Wage laws are one of the single, biggest drivers of costs on public projects. Those costs are another heavy burden on overtaxed families. Elected officials need flexibility and specific ways to keep down costs - prevailing wage reform is an imperative.
9. Government employees, including public school teachers, should be prohibited from striking, and lose a day and one-half of pay for each day they do so - similar to New York State's law.
I think that if given the chance, teachers and parents could find real common ground on this issue. I believe that anyone paid by the taxpayer forfeits the right to strike since striking is against the public at large. I believe most teachers would agree that striking sets the wrong tone for communities and a poor example for students. Because Pennsylvania values its public schools we must end strikes by public school educators. It's a reform that would honor and celebrate the importance of an education focused on doing what is best for students above all.
10. Pennsylvania should limit non-economic damages awarded in a lawsuit, while protecting the rights of victims to recover all economic damages; and a defendant's liability should be proportionate to his share of fault.
Ending subjective, arbitrary, often emotion-driven lawsuit abuse is another one of those keystone reforms for Pennsylvania's economic viability. The overarching principles of personal responsibility must be honored, and the wronged made whole, but our system of justice loses tremendous credibility of we are in essence a "legal lottery."
11. Pennsylvania's Constitution should be amended to empower citizens with initiative, referendum and recall - similar to 24 other states.
Initiative and referendum along with referendum and recall is one of those important reforms that is sadly overdue. Their need speaks to a state government that's too often driven by private and special interest, and the sheer size and power of incumbency protection programs. Whether the issue is a corrupt public official or a stalled public policy reform these 'people powers' are important equalizers for ordinary citizens.
12. Pennsylvania should return to a part-time legislature with a limited number of legislative days - similar to 46 other states.
Since the 1970's, Pennsylvania's legislature has grown far beyond any reasonable boundaries for constitutionally proscribed duties and responsibilities. While there are certain advantages to a full time legislature the amount of work necessary to respond to the needs of the Commonweath, could be achieved with a part-time legislature as well. The ideal -- a citizen legislature -- was designed to keep elected legislators planted firmly in the real world from which they were elected. It's time to revisit the constitution and reverse course when it comes to the size of duties of the state legislature. For taxpayers, a lean, limited, responsive legislature is the best model.
13. The number of terms someone can serve in the state legislature should be limited - similar to 15 other states.
I have always opposed the mandatory imposition of term limits. An informed and knowledgable citizenry is the most capable term limiter. I do favor term limits applied internally to limit Committee Chairman and Caucus leaders. This is the place where power becomes centralized and calloused.
14. Pension and healthcare benefits for government employees should reflect private sector practices, including 401(k)-style defined contribution plans for new hires and health care cost sharing.
If you listen to all the candidates for governor this year, there is unanimous agreement that there is titanic-sized problem in the immediate and the long term. That's where most of agreement evaporates. The real test is what specific policy proposals we'll endorse to shape the solution. A defined benefit solution and health care cost sharing is a start, but we need to consider the idea of renegotiation some of the more lucrative pensions packages. Making hard choices now will prevent Pennsylvania's taxpayer from carrying the ball and chain that is our broken system. Finally, let me be clear that I will oppose every effort to raise taxes for the the purposes of fixing the state pension system.
15. State and local government should privatize services that can be performed by the private sector, such as the state liquor stores, golf courses, hotels, fitness centers and parking garages.
As a general principle, governments need to get out of the business of competing with the private sector. Extracting ourselves from current obligations must be weighted with careful cost/benefit analysis. In most, if not all instances, returning these functions to the private sector will prove to be a sound fiscal decision.
16. Pennsylvanians should be allowed to waive individuals health care mandates, and health insurers should be allowed to offer mandate-free policies to reduce heathcare insurance costs for citizens.
The principle of greater flexibility and choice for citizens is an important ingredient of any genuine healthcare reform package. It's of even greater importance that the decisions we make are kept in Pennsylvania - not delegated by default to the federal government. The next government must be prepared to exercise full 10th Amendment authority in opposing federal mandates - especially on healthcare.
17. Health insures should not be forced to use "community rating" to determine the cost of premiums and should be allowed to use "experiential rating," similar to how auto insurance premiums are determined.
Once again, our healthcare reform conversation should be centered on personal responsibility. Moving away from more subjective ratings to a standard based on individual heath and behavior is an important reform.
18. Pennsylvania should establish a "high-risk pool" that guarantees adequate health insurance for citizens for pre-existing conditions, rather than forcing healthy and low-income citizens to subsidize the premium of unhealthy and high-income citizens.
19. Pennsylvania should flex its 9th and 10th Amendment muscles with the federal government and refuse to accept funding with mandates for higher state spending, regulations and uncertain future commitments.
The 9th and 10th Amendments provide an indispensable protection for the states from an overreaching federal government into the life, liberty and property of the citizens. In healthcare, education and numerous other areas, the federal government's violation of state authority in these areas is one of the major causes for the insolvency and even bankruptcy of many states. Rejecting mandate-laden stimulus money is one of the clearest ways a responsible governor should and must exercise authority.
20. As Governor of Pennsylvania, my highest priorities as a public servant to the taxpayers and citizens of Pennsylvania will be...
My administration will be built on the idea that the people rule the government, not the reverse. In practice, that means leading a government that lives well within its means, is truthful and responsive to citizens and operates under constitutional limits. Our policies will focus on the following core objectives:
1. Remove Roadblocks to Job Creation & Economic Recovery.
2. Reduce Government Cost Through Disciplined Taxes & Lower Spending.
3. Stabilize School Funding & Eliminate School Property Taxes.
4. Improve Student Performance by Expanding Choice and Empowering Parents.
5. Restore the Culture of Ethics and Integrity in Government.
Who are We?
The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.
Two new BOX Program podcasts offer illuminating insight into our public pension crisis and how lawmakers can help fix the broken system. First, Matt talks with former Utah State Senator Dan Liljenquist about pension reforms enacted in Utah. Liljenquist likened the pension system to a chemical spill—the ...