Delivered on Thursday, April 26, 2007
Good morning Chairman Corman, Senator Regola, and Senator Folmer. It is indeed a pleasure and an honor to be able to come before you this morning as you consider public opinion of the Taxpayer Protection legislation which all of you have introduced or cosponsored. As you are aware, the Commonwealth Foundation joined you at the announcement of this legislation and has supported this concept for many years. I am here today as a fellow of the Commonwealth Foundation, but also as a former State Senator who sponsored similar legislation, and as a former member of the US House who sponsored it there as well.
In my 16 years of public service, I have not often seen a legislative body with the will to keep spending within a reasonable amount. The challenges of legislative compromise have nearly always outweighed the common sense spending principles that families must follow in their own budgeting. Unfortunately legislators know all too well that unlike Pennsylvania’s families, if they need more money to meet the demands of their favored programs and even necessary government services, they need only reach deeper into the pockets of the citizenry. Unfortunately, I learned how easily legislators could be convinced to take this approach in my first budget season as a state senator in 1991.
That year, Republicans and Democrats alike were prey to the demands of so many “good” projects over the truly needed prioritization of services which state government must provide. Often, elected officials are unwilling to choose between saving citizens from higher taxes and funding projects or programs which often inure only to the political benefit of legislators and/or the governor. As an idealistic freshman senator, I was grossly disappointed in the results. I refused to support this debacle of tax increases on both individuals and businesses in Pennsylvania. I searched for a way to avoid this type of mistake in the future. The Commonwealth Foundation presented this plan to reign in state spending and many of us, who were committed to turning this mistake around, supported a similar bill at the time. We were unable to pass it during my tenure, but have watched other state legislatures consider and pass such measures. Our state’s spending growth has only accelerated since the 90’s and proven that Pennsylvania’s passage of these limits is long overdue.
As Commonwealth Foundation President Matt Brouillette said upon introduction of the legislation, “you can grow the government or you can grow the economy, but you can’t grow both.” During the tenure of Governor Rendell, government spending has increased 28%—five times more than the average weekly wage. Not coincidentally, compared to the other 50 states during this period, Pennsylvania’s job growth ranked 36th as its income and population growth both ranked 43rd. A recent analysis of job data by the Commonwealth Foundation shows that the 10 states which reduced their tax burdens the most since the 70’s, are the ones which enjoyed job growth at a rate 4 times that of the ten states with the highest tax increases, one of which is our dear Pennsylvania.
This data alone makes the argument for spending limitations. Unrestrained growth in spending has led to higher tax burdens for Pennsylvanians — individuals and business–as they try to educate their children or grow their markets. The Tax foundation reports that our state and local taxes as a percentage of income grew by 13% since 1990. Pennsylvania went from having the 9th lowest tax burden to ranking in the top half of the states last year. Today, we pay more in taxes than we pay for housing, food, and clothing combined.
I have been a good government conservative for 16 years of public service. I’ve listened to anecdotes from people around the state for all of those years. Never has an individual or head of a business suggested to me that government is too small or that we need one more program and only then will government be perfect. On the contrary, people want spending limits. The ones proposed here are logical and easy to understand. Limit the growth of the state’s spending to the 3-year average rate of growth in personal income, or inflation plus population growth. If the government is forced to limit its growth it will re-examine the people’s priorities. It will cut out the fat. It will put more of the taxpayers’ money back into their own pockets, and most importantly, it will give the people their freedom to choose their own priorities and jump-start Pennsylvania’s economy.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify before the committee.
The Honorable Melissa Hart is a fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation (www.CommonwealthFoundation.org ), an independent, nonprofit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg.