Every June, there is a flurry of activity in Harrisburg surrounding the budget; 2021 was no different. Thanks to “one-time” federal COVID stimulus funds, the General Assembly was flush with tax dollars to spend as they saw fit. And, spend they did.
The 2021-2022 General Fund budget increased ongoing spending by $3.2 billion. That is an increase of 8.8 percent over last year’s budget. For comparison, that’s almost five times the rate of inflation and population growth. Make no mistake, this is a massive spending increase and it is bad news for taxpayers.
On the plus side, lawmakers added $2.5 billion to the rainy-day fund and held back the lion’s share of federal stimulus dollars for next year. That extra money will come in handy because the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) estimates that there will be a $2 billion deficit in coming years. The projected deficit is primarily the result of bipartisan overspending for decades.
What makes matters even more frustrating is that nearly all Republicans, many of whom profess their fiscal conservatism, happily voted for the 2021-2022 budget. It is impossible to square their purported support for policies like the “Taxpayer Protection Act” that limits spending growth to inflation and population growth with budget votes that consistently fly in the face of that limit.
On the other side of the coin are the Democrats who voted against the budget because it didn’t spend enough money! Watching this process play out is a bit like being a passenger in a car where one potential driver wants to go over a cliff at 85 miles per hour, and the more “responsible” one thinks you should only be going 65 miles per hour when you go over.
The consistently poor performance by our “friends” in the General Assembly is one of the reasons that Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania and our political action committee (PAC) work to hold Harrisburg accountable regardless of party affiliation.