The Incumbents We Need

Pennsylvania’s 2006 elections will go down in the history books as one in which citizens overturned the apple cart of many incumbent state legislators. While many career politicians are already looking for another line of work after the May primary, everyone in Harrisburg is wondering how many more will be forced to do so after November’s general election.

The voters will answer that question, of course. But before they enter the voting booth in a few months, they will need to decide if they should continue sweeping incumbents out of Harrisburg.

Citizens who care about our constitutional republic have become disenchanted with the machinations of Pennsylvania’s state government. The Republican-led General Assembly and Democratic Governor have failed to exercise their proper and legitimate power as the protector of private property (including your home, your income, and your life), and instead have harmfully intervened in the economy and pompously intruded into the lives of our families and communities.

Last year’s pay raise scandal was just a symptom of state government run amok. It was the result of a problem that Thomas Jefferson fingered when he said, “Most bad government has grown out of too much government.” And Pennsylvania is the epitome of “too much government.”

This year, state government will consume nearly $3,100 more in taxes per family of four in Pennsylvania than it did in 2003. The total cost of Harrisburg’s spending plan for this fiscal year alone will cost that same household more than $17,720. That’s more than $340 per week just to fund state government. Add in local and federal government spending, and those numbers more than double.

This dramatic growth in state government spending didn’t occur overnight, of course. It is the result of decades of fiscal neglect and short-sighted economic policy. Today, state government consumes 42% more of our personal income than it did in 1970. Yet during this same time period, we rank 49th in the nation in job growth, 46th in personal income growth, and 47th in population growth. Democrats and Republicans alike have been choosing to grow the government at the expense of our livelihoods.

Evidence of Pennsylvania’s lackluster economic performance is further demonstrated by Harrisburg politicians who have made this state a national leader in disseminating so-called “economic development” grants to lobbyist-connected, politically-selected corporations. A healthy business climate would not require such corporate welfare programs to “stimulate the economy.”

But not all 203 members of the General Assembly are willfully taking Pennsylvania down what F.A. Hayek termed the “Road to Serfdom.” In fact, time and again on key votes, majorities in the House Republican caucus are fighting against their “leaders” and a handful of colleagues who are joining with minority party Democrats to raise taxes, give away gambling licenses worth billions of dollars, and pass unaffordable, pork-laden budgets.

Take, for example, the massive tax hike of December 2003. Seventy-five Republicans (and 14 Democrats) in the House voted to reject higher taxes. But 30 Republicans—led by caucus leaders—joined with 83 minority party Democrats to boost annual taxes on working Pennsylvanians by billions of dollars.

Also consider the “Save the Horses” slots machine bill of July 2004 in which 83 Republicans (and five Democrats) stood their ground against 25 Republicans who conceived—with 88 minority party Democrats—one of the biggest and most lucrative special-interest giveaways in Pennsylvania history.

Then this last July, 68 Republicans fought against the passage of the state’s spending plan—a bloated, 7.6% increase in higher government expenditures. Thirty-nine Republicans once again joined with 88 minority party Democrats to overspend the taxpayers’ money and guarantee another future tax hike.

The good news is that the votes for fiscal responsibility represent a growing trend within the House of Representatives. Most indicative of this movement are the efforts of the Commonwealth Caucus—led by Rep. Sam Rohrer and other rank-and-file members—which has introduced fiscally responsible alternative spending plans for years.

In 2002, the first year leadership allowed a vote on the floor, the Commonwealth Caucus’s “zero-growth” budget proposal garnered only 19 votes in the House. In 2005, 60 members of the House voted for fiscal restraint, and 72 members voted for a more responsible spending plan in 2006. The growing number of Republicans, and Democrats, calling for fiscal discipline reveals a promising trend for the economic fate of our Commonwealth.

As voters consider whether or not to sweep incumbents out of office this November, they should recognize the many members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly who are fighting the good fight in Harrisburg. They are the incumbents we need.

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Matthew J. Brouillette is president & CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (, an independent public policy research and educational institute located in Harrisburg, PA.