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By Dave Lemery
The Center Square 

Pa. Senate Committee Advances Bill To Rein In Growth of Budget

Would Require Pa. Constitution Amendment

 


Pennsylvania’s proposed Taxpayer Protection Act took another step June 3 in what promises to be a long and arduous road to passage.

In the first week of June, the Senate Finance Committee advanced the proposed constitutional amendment, over Democratic opposition, that would restrict how much state spending could grow in any given year based on certain economic indicators.

“This amendment would limit state appropriation increases to the average percentage change in personal income in the Commonwealth for the prior three years, or to the average percentage change in inflation for the three years prior plus the average percentage change and inflation for that three year period,” Finance Committee Chairman Scott Hutchinson (R-Oil City) told his fellow committee members before the vote.

Hutchinson’s Democratic counterpart, Sen. John Blake, the minority chairman, argued that the proposal, filed this session as Senate Bill 116, would strip away some of the Legislature’s constitutionally dictated duties.

“There is considerable court opinion, judicial precedent, that would question the constitutionality of either restricting the discretion or constricting the decision-making authority of future general assemblies or governors,” Blake said. “As such, I cannot support this bill at this time.”

Blake also argued that passing the TPA would bind the hands of future lawmakers who might have to deal with any number of unforeseeable crises. But during a news conference earlier in the week, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington) had emphasized that the legislation contains provisions whereby lawmakers could vote to exceed the spending restrictions in such a crisis.

“In case of emergency or when the governor requests it, lawmakers would have the ability to vote to exceed the TPA limit,” Bartolotta said during Monday’s presentation. “But to do so would require a two-thirds vote of lawmakers in both chambers of the legislature. By limiting government growth, the TPA keeps money in the hands of job creators and employees who know how best to spend it.”

Getting a constitutional amendment passed in Pennsylvania is a tall order, and even if the TPA passes both the House and the Senate this session, it will still be far from going into effect.

For starters, it would have to pass again during the 2021-22 legislative session with unchanged language.

For example, a proposed constitutional amendment to reduce the number of seats in the state House of Representatives passed during the 2015-16 session, but the proposal was amended when it came up for consideration again during the 2017-18 session, essentially resetting the clock and invalidating the earlier vote.

Even if the TPA passes twice without alteration, a further requirement would be going before the state’s voters for approval. Only if it then gains a majority would the state constitution be amended.

Bartolotta, during her news conference, noted that 30 states already have restrictions on how much lawmakers can grow the budget each year, putting Pennsylvania in the minority among U.S. states.

“I think the responsible and mature thing to do would be to make sure that we, along with 30 other states in the nation, put some sort of a cap on spending and hold the General Assembly accountable to the taxpayers from here on out,” she said.

SB116 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

 

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