Family Ties or Government Bonds?

Note: This commentary was published in the York Daily Record, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Allentown Morning Call, and other news outlets across the state.

Imagine a little girl and her young mother sitting on a weathered porch in a working-class urban neighborhood. The child smiles warmly, but the mother looks stressed—she’s tired from long hours working second shift and raising a daughter by herself. The girl’s father has never played a role in her life, but her grandparents do their best to love and support the single-parent family.

That could be a page from the lives of thousands of working-class, ethnically-mixed families in Pennsylvania—but it happens to be from my own childhood on 19th Street in Harrisburg.

I was that daughter of Puerto Rican and Slavic American parents taught to dream as big as I could, though the odds were stacked against me. That was my mother gritting her teeth and getting by so that I could have a chance to thrive.

Family ties can bind us together across any cultural or class boundary. Maintaining and promoting them should be our first priority. But while politicians routinely give lip service to helping families like yours and mine prosper, I’ve found that their solutions often do more harm than good.

So, it surprises me when people promote government intervention as the knee-jerk solutions to income mobility, job growth, and public education—as if throwing families’ hard-earned money at these problems will somehow make them go away.

In my experience, taxing and spending is no recipe for prosperity for working-class families. But that’s just what Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal would do—spend tax dollars at a record $1,000 per second and tax 45 more products and services.

When I worked my way through college—accruing too much student loan debt and often making ends meet by eating ramen noodles—a tax on textbooks would have been a substantial burden. Add taxes on everything from child care to nursing home care, and people of all ages will feel the hand of government reaching into their pockets.

In fact, a report from the non-partisan Independent Fiscal Office shows that every income group would pay more in taxes under Wolf’s plan.

Overall, Wolf’s budget would raise taxes by about $1,400 per family of four. He would also cut property taxes—more than a year from now—for some people in some districts. But on the whole, only 30 cents would return in relief for each dollar taken in tax hikes.

That’s not what working-class and minority families struggling to pay rent, buy diapers, and save for their children’s futures are looking for.

Instead, it’s time we entrusted Pennsylvanians to make their own choices with their own money. A vibrant, free economy where people can reach their full potential regardless of color, class, or creed is what Pennsylvania should be striving for.

Unfortunately, some—even those in elected office like state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia)—resort to calling advocates of personal freedom “racist,” “sexist,” or “bigots” because they are unable to justify policies that end up harming the most vulnerable among us.

Let’s be clear: There is nothing divisive about empowering all people to create success on their own terms.

What our struggling communities really need are job opportunities that allow families to work their way up the ladder to prosperity.

But expanding government and hiking taxes to pay for it won’t deliver on the promise of “jobs that pay.” Quite the opposite, in fact: The Beacon Hill Institute’s STAMP analysis estimates that, if the governor’s budget plan is enacted, Pennsylvanians would miss out on almost 30,000 job opportunities next year.  

That would delay the aspirations of teenagers hoping to learn the ropes on their first job, mothers looking for part time work and still be home for the kids, and fathers ready to work a second job to contribute more.

The truth is, we can’t tax ourselves to prosperity. In contrast, economic freedom has lifted 1 billion people across the world out of poverty in the last 20 years—far more than any government program in history.

As a Latina whose family has seen tough times and overcome them, hear me: If we want a brighter future for our commonwealth, government must do less so that we are free to do more for our own families and communities.

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Brittney Parker is the community liaison for the Commonwealth Foundation (, Pennsylvania’s free market think tank.