Originally published in Delaware Valley Journal.
Devastating though it was to our state economy, the pandemic did not set the Pennsylvania state government back financially. In fact, our fiscal situation improved because Harrisburg has received $17 billion in total federal COVID relief and only lost a fraction of that in tax revenue.
While most of that money has been allocated, after the American Rescue Plan passed in March, the legislature was left with $7.2 billion to use at its discretion.
In the recent past, we’ve misused such money by viewing it as a winning lottery ticket to spend extravagantly. This year, lawmakers should use the funds prudently, for the long-term benefit of the state.
Pennsylvania has a structural deficit, meaning our government spends far more than it receives in taxes no matter how well the economy performs. The Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) projects the annual deficit to be two to three billion dollars over the next five years.
Last year, $1 billion of federal CARES Act money went to temporarily filling those huge holes. If we had a balanced budget before the pandemic, we could have instead used that money to support struggling small businesses or fund educational savings accounts for low-income families.
Looking back further, it’s evident that spending…