Guest Editorial: Wisely invest state budget surplus

Pennsylvania lawmakers will soon decide what to do with $10 billion in surplus revenue and federal coronavirus pandemic stimulus funding.

Legislators must decide how to use $7.3 billion in federal COVID-19 aid courtesy of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. State lawmakers will also have another $3 billion in surplus revenues.

How these lawmakers use this unique opportunity could help shape the state’s future.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, is understandably “deathly afraid” that the GOP-controlled legislature will squander the opportunity to use the funding to address long-term, systemic issues, including many that disproportionately affect African Americans.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Tribune, Hughes and House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton said Republicans have not revealed their spending plan to Democrats.

“The silence, I think, from our Republican colleagues is deafening. … We don’t know what they’re going to come out with,” Hughes said during a recent meeting with the Tribune’s editorial board.

Jason Gottesman, spokesman for state House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, told the Tribune that the GOP’s plan will be “reflected in the budget we produce.”

“Currently, we are going through the guidance from the federal government on how the money can be spent, taking into account the years of deficit spending from the Wolf administration that needs to be addressed in this budget, and making sure we are responsible to taxpayers by not raising taxes in any potential budget plan we put together,” Gottesman said.

However, the budget surplus presents an opportunity to reinvest in Pennsylvanians while not raising taxes. This is an opportunity to invest in Pennsylvania workers and small business owners who are still badly hurting from the pandemic.

The surplus is also an opportunity to reinvest in our schools that have been challenged for years with crumbling buildings and asbestos.

Negotiations between state Democratic and Republican lawmakers are ongoing. State lawmakers must pass a balanced budget by the end of the month. The new fiscal year starts July 1. The federal funding can be spent over the coming years.

Hughes and McClinton said Democrats have laid out a plan to spend the surplus and federal pandemic stimulus that focuses on small businesses, public infrastructure and workforce development.

Hughes said the state’s revenue surplus combined with the federal pandemic funding was the largest influx of capital into the economy since President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

McClinton said she expected the state to reap high state revenue “for a while.”

“We’re seeing better days ahead, with the federal government literally printing out money, distributing it to not only our state, but here in Philadelphia,” McClinton said. Philadelphia will receive a total of $1.4 billion in federal pandemic stimulus funding.

As the state gets closer to its budget deadline, all eyes are on how legislators will decide to use the surplus.

Hopefully, Pennsylvania lawmakers will choose to invest wisely.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)

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