Budget address should bring some answers
Many Pennsylvania residents will be interested in hearing what Gov. Tom Wolf has to say when he delivers his 2019-20 state budget address on Feb. 5.
No state taxpayer should embrace a lackadaisical attitude about the details of that fiscal message, even though taxpayers won’t have to fear a state income tax increase.
The state’s money picture is continuing to improve, with incoming revenue in recent months exceeding estimates significantly.
What’s important for all taxpayers to understand is that, in one way or numerous ways, the state’s budget impacts every state resident directly or indirectly. Therefore, state residents should be seriously interested in the course of coming budget negotiations.
Those negotiations are likely to continue until nearly the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, or possibly beyond that date if controversial issues stymie budget progress. By following progress on the new budget, state residents will be able to put aside any misconceptions about what budget-making in Harrisburg entails.
Yes, there are Pennsylvania residents who harbor the mistaken belief that it’s the governor alone who prepares the budget.
Each year, Pennsylvania’s governor does assemble a budget proposal based on perceptions regarding the commonwealth’s needs and what the chief executive believes priorities ought to be. However, that budget address is just a proposal; it’s the Legislature that actually assembles the spending package for the 12 months beyond July 1.
This year there is something new that has the potential to help simplify budget preparation, by eliminating some of the guessing that often is a source of controversy.
If successful this year, it could be a valuable tool beyond 2019-20.
On Tuesday, state policymakers held what was described as the first-ever performance-based budget hearing in the state’s history.
A panel called the Performance-Based Budget Board began a review of reports prepared by the state Independent Fiscal Office. Those reports provide a basis for weighing the relationships between program funding levels and expected program results.
Criminal justice-related agencies were the center of attention.
Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, majority chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee and chairman of the PBB board, was quoted by the news and information service Capitolwire as saying “performance-based budgeting provides transparency in government spending, helps eliminate wasteful government spending, prevents excessive budget growth for outdated programs and outlines measurable objectives for state agencies.”
According to Browne, the new performance-based review process not only is aimed at providing a more detailed look at agency spending; it will look beyond the line-item expense for activities and services provided.
The process is geared toward determining the outcomes of expenditures — determinations that will enable improved prioritization of expenditures and delivery of services.
What that means is that the Legislature and governor will have better information for establishing budget allocations for services and departments.
That could help save many millions of dollars.
The ultimate goal of the governor and Legislature is to prepare the best, most-responsible spending package possible with the financial resources available — without raising taxes.
Tuesday’s hearing showed significant promise. Additional sessions and discussions will be forthcoming. Pay attention to what Wolf says when he delivers his budget address, and be hopeful that he and the Legislature use PBB to the best advantage.
Indeed, taxpayers have the right to demand it.