State leaders give input on budget woes at Pittsburgh meeting
State Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, said he made an unsettling observation when he took his seat in Harrisburg five years ago.
To Dunbar, a certified public accountant, Pennsylvania’s budget process relied too heavily on past allocations and across-the-board increases or decreases “without any consideration whatsoever of what we were accomplishing with those dollars.”
Dunbar’s remarks Monday in Carnegie Music Hall echoed a common sentiment at the annual meeting of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership: It’s time to embrace a renewed era of “outcome-based” budgeting. Pressure is mounting on public and nonprofit entities to demonstrate proof of return on investment.
“We, as a sector, need to really be able to look at the value of communicating our outcomes,” said Samantha Balbier, executive director of the partnership, a coalition of more than 350 nonprofit and corporate members in the region.
Dunbar joined three fellow lawmakers on a panel discussion that anchored the meeting, which focused on what’s to come once Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Tom Wolf takes office.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, stressed that getting the state on a path toward fiscal stability is his priority — particularly on the heels of credit downgrades by ratings agencies. The Independent Fiscal Office projects a $1.85 billion budget shortfall for 2015. This year’s budget is $29.1 billion.
Costa and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, said they will push to shield from cuts to the state’s two biggest spending areas — education and human services — and instead work with the Wolf administration to rally Republican support for new revenue. Wolf, a millionaire businessman from York, campaigned on establishing a severance tax on natural gas drillers; closing corporate tax loopholes; and increasing the personal income tax rate.
“You can’t tax everything to death,” said state Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler.
Wheatley said he wants the state to focus on structural budget changes rather than short-term fixes.
“People have lost faith in their government really doing anything for them, and I think we can restore that faith by allowing this new administration to come to the table with us and look at (the budget) from a systematic perspective,” Wheatley said.
Dunbar, co-chair on the bicameral Government Reform Caucus, praised Wolf for announcing that a gift ban that applies to his appointees and executive branch employees will be among his first official acts as governor.
“Now we have to get behind (Wolf) and see if we can work on the same page as him,” Vulakovich said. He noted that gridlock plagued the Legislature even with a Republican governor and GOP majorities in both houses.
“It’s all about egos,” Vulakovich said, “and we need to get away from that.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or [email protected].