An Overdue Diet for an Overweight Government

Working Pennsylvanians received wage or salary increases averaging just slightly more than 6 percent over the last two years—yet state government spending during the first half of the Rendell Administration grew at the alarming rate of 12.1 percent.

Today, state government spends more than $16,700 per family of four—or $1,800 more than it did in 2003 when Ed Rendell became governor. With state government spending taxpayer money at a clip of $725 per second, $43,524 per minute, $2,611,426 per hour, and $62,674,216 per day, some fiscal restraint is desperately needed in Pennsylvania.

Fortunately for Pennsylvania’s working families, Senate Majority Leader David “Chip” Brightbill announced his plan to introduce legislation—and hopefully a Constitutional amendment—that will put an overweight government on an overdue diet.

Dubbed the “Taxpayer Fairness Act,” state government spending growth would be limited to either (a) the average rate of change for the three preceding years of personal income growth in Pennsylvania, or (b) the average rate of change for the three preceding years of inflation plus state population growth, whichever is less.

The benefits to taxpayers of such a limitation on spending are significant. For example, had Sen. Brightbill’s proposal been implemented before Gov. Rendell’s first budget, General Fund spending today would be $600 less per family of four. And the $1.3 billion tax and fee increase levied in 2003 on families and job providers would never have made it to Gov. Rendell’s desk.

Currently, 27 states have some form of tax and expenditure limitations. The lack of such restraints in Pennsylvania has resulted in some of the most rapid state government spending growth in the nation, even before Gov. Rendell took office.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based CATO Institute, Pennsylvania’s real per capita spending growth rate of 103 percent ranked fifth highest in the nation between 1991 and 2002, trailing only Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia and Missouri. And at the 12 percent growth rate over the last two years, the “Taxpayer Fairness Act” appears to be the only way to end the annual tax-eating binges in Harrisburg.

The evidence is clear: Pennsylvania state government is obese and needs to be placed on a diet. The “Taxpayer Fairness Act” is the only way to control its insatiable appetite to spend other people’s money, and allow Pennsylvania to begin to restore itself to an economically healthy state.

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Matthew J. Brouillette is president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research and educational institute located at the foot of the Capitol in Harrisburg, PA.