State House Committee Examines Senate Budget Plan

Read Sharon Ward's Full Testimony Before the House Appropriations Committee

The Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee held the first of two hearings Thursday on the budget bill approved by the Senate earlier this month on a party-line vote. Among the testifiers appearing before the committee was PBPC Director Sharon Ward.

Ward outlined the impact of the numerous program cuts included in Senate Bill 850, which spends $1.7 billion less than the budget proposed by Governor Ed Rendell in February. The Senate plan will cut funding across all state departments and agencies, with the impact falling hardest on the state's school students and the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.

"This plan should put to rest once and for all the myth that state spending can be cut without affecting state services or the people who depend on them," Ward testified.

She urged lawmakers to take a more balanced approach to crafting a budget for the 2009-10 Fiscal Year. That includes transferring money from the Rainy Day Fund and the Health Care Provider Retention Account, closing corporate tax loopholes and working toward a fairer tax system, and considering new revenue options, such as an excise tax on smokeless tobacco and cigars, and a severance tax on natural gas production. Pennsylvania is the only state without a smokeless tobacco and cigar tax.

Ward discussed strategies employed by other states to fill widening budget gaps. In most cases, state policymakers found deficits too large to fill by budget cuts, and were unwilling to cut education, health care and services for children, seniors and the disabled. She noted that 16 states had raised taxes, and 17 more were considering revenue changes.

Read Sharon Ward's Full Testimony Before the House Appropriations Committee

You can also read PBPC's analysis of Senate Bill 850.