Delivering on the Promise of Pennsylvania

Monday, December 18, 2017

Pennsylvania has everything it needs to be the #1 place to live and work in the United States. Yet, the reality is that Pennsylvania is at or near the bottom of virtually every important indicator of economic growth, and every day, we watch another business close entirely or move to another state, while we are saddled with a state budget that is months overdue, mortgages our children’s future after destroying our credit rating, and provides a tax base that, rather than depending on people building, and making and growing things, is ever more dependent on our citizens drinking and smoking and gambling and smoking pot. What have we become?

It is time for the citizens–who know how to run businesses and raise families and contribute in meaningful ways to our communities–to reclaim our government. Providing an economic environment that generates good private-sector jobs for Pennsylvanians is the first order of business for government. That requires two basic things: a clear business plan and a sound budget process. And the vision, resolve, and experience to deliver on both. No more dysfunction, no more wasted time and wasted taxes. It is time for us to have leadership who understands that their only job is to actually GET THINGS DONE, and deliver on the promise of Pennsylvania, for the people of Pennsylvania.

Here is how that can be done:

1. A Clear, Unambiguous Commitment to Job Creation

Creating jobs across the Commonwealth should be the centerpiece of the state government’s agenda, and commitment to that goal must start at the top. Job creation doesn’t mean growing an already engorged government payroll; the focus needs to be on creation of jobs in the private sector, both by growing existing businesses and starting new ones, and by attracting companies to come to Pennsylvania. Focusing on private sector job growth will reduce the tax burden, freeing up businesses to invest in their growth and add jobs across the state. Too often today, businesses in Pennsylvania feel that their greatest competition is their own government, with suffocating regulation and a lack of understanding of what it takes to grow a business. For companies looking to site new businesses, they see the second highest corporate net income tax in the nation, a disorganized and unfocused economic development team, and an Administration that has no concept of what it takes to compete for business against other states. We need leadership in Harrisburg who knows what it takes to run a business and to attract new businesses. As a business owner who has done business in Pennsylvania, as a lawyer who has represented many top companies doing business and seeking to do business in Pennsylvania, and as a civic leader who has worked at the intersection of private and public sectors for over a decade to attract new business to Pennsylvania in competition with other states, I understand what it takes to develop private sector jobs. That includes a renewed commitment to engaging the private sector in a meaningful and productive way. The talent, expertise, business discipline, creativity and, yes, community commitment of business leaders in Pennsylvania are second to none. Marshalling that prodigious talent in a way that advances job creation across the Commonwealth is a primary goal of government, and the Governor should be the one leading that charge. As Governor, I will.

2. Creation of a Council on Economic Development and a Governor’s Outreach Team

Dedication to growing Pennsylvania’s economy means bringing together business leaders and establishing a system that unleashes their knowledge and talent to bring about action. The creation of this Council on Economic Development would be comprised of leaders from across the state representing all business sectors–large and small–who have demonstrated their commitment to solving the problems that make our state so hard to do business in. This Council would report directly to the Governor and would be given the charge to identify, within 90 days, specific achievable goals to be pursued in the following six months. At the end of six months, the Council would reconvene to benchmark success, assess adjustments necessary to achieve success, and identify additional goals. And the Council would continue in that fashion to monitor the accountability of government response and to identify new goals to move job creation forward. Too often, the private sector is invited to share its ideas, but it is largely for show, and there is never any delivery by government. The structure and accountability of the Council process will change that, and will provide an active, robust, and focused place to harness the collective wisdom and expertise of the private sector in helping to solve government problems. A subset of the Council will serve on the Governor’s Outreach Team, which will work actively with prospective new businesses looking to establish operations in Pennsylvania. Business leaders relate to business leaders more than government bureaucrats. Actively engaging private sector leaders in the statewide business attraction activities of the state will materially improve the nature and quality of the discussion. Other members of the Outreach Team will include senior members of the Governor’s staff, all of whom will have backgrounds in business and economic development. The Outreach Team will be a professional and experienced group of business people who can effectively make the business case for operating here, and they also will be used to target companies for affirmative outreach, both elsewhere in the United States and around the world. Whether suppliers, or customers, or others operating in the sector, existing businesses often have the best view on attractive business opportunities for other industries and sectors, and the Outreach Team will be the central repository for that information and organized business outreach.

3. Develop ‘The Map’: A Visual Depiction of What We Want Pennsylvania to be 10 Years From Now

Every businessperson knows that there is no way to move a complex organization forward without a clear and coherent business plan. Without any specific goal, there is no way to conduct the kind of long-term planning necessary to achieve significant improvement, to organize disparate groups in an organized way, or to benchmark whether we are making progress toward our goals. Pennsylvania has no plan, so it is no surprise that we are making no progress. Our current leadership lunges from one issue to another, driven by the need to solve immediate cash flow issues created by their own lack of discipline and focus (or their own political aspirations), rather than asking the question of how their activity does, or does not, advance progress toward where we want to be as a state ten years from now. We need to change that; government by “whack-a-mole” must come to an end.

We need to come together around a common vision of what our state should look like ten years from now. That vision then presents a roadmap so that everyone who cares about delivering that future for Pennsylvania is welcome at the table to roll up their sleeves and work together to get it done. The Map is a visual depiction of that common vision of what we want Pennsylvania to look like 10 years from now. Not everyone will agree with every part. But with a comprehensive plan, every Pennsylvanian will see a role that they can play in delivering on that vision.

The Map is an illustration of what we choose our destiny to be, and it reveals that we already have all the things that we need to be the #1 place to live and work in the United States. All we need is the vision, energy, and discipline to bring them together with a common purpose and resolve.

This Map of Pennsylvania will show:

  • Pennsylvania is the energy capital of the United States, with a thriving and diverse energy sector that utilizes our extensive energy assets, including natural gas, and coal, and solar, and wind, and nuclear to deliver low-cost energy to families and manufacturing alike, throughout the nation;
  • Infrastructure, including highways, waterways, airports, mass transit, and rail, that connects energy, transportation, logistics, workforce, and education, making working and living in Pennsylvania efficient and attractive for all our citizens;
  • Pad-ready sites and robust manufacturing locations, with supply chain businesses feeding those sites, all benefitting from the manufacturing feedstock that is a natural part of our unparalleled natural gas resources;
  • Educational institutions that train our workforce, improve the quality of life in communities across our state, and enhance the critical thinking and respect for diverse ideas that are at the heart of any democracy;
  • A workforce whose training and skills and work ethic are second to none;
  • Thriving research universities that power innovation and technical advancement and attract the best and brightest young people from around the world;
  • An agricultural sector that applies the latest technologies to grow product that is delivered throughout Pennsylvania, the United States, and the world;
  • A high quality of life, including clean environment and abundant green recreational and outdoor spaces, that will attract both tourism and workforce.

And there is so much more. An initial draft of The Map would be created within my first 30 days in office and then opened to a collaborative public comment process, with finalization of The Map within our first six months in office. The Map will remain a living document, subject to refinement and enhancement as events evolve, but it will be the key planning document around which our agenda will evolve. It will also provide a way for citizens to hold government accountable, because each year, we will report progress toward those goals, so that citizens can determine for themselves whether they are being well-served by their leaders.

That kind of long-term comprehensive planning is critical to the complex and time- and capital-intensive infrastructure projects necessary to bring Pennsylvania into the future. Large transportation and infrastructure projects call for planning that is (1) Comprehensive; they need to interconnect with one another and with centers of business, education, population, and transportation now and in the future, and therefore require a strong partner at the state-planning level; (2) Predictable: these projects require long-term and stable funding and therefore cannot operate effectively in a chaotic and unpredictable environment (such as, where funds dedicated to transportation are raided to provide immediate funding solutions for a budget gap, as was done in the most recent budget); and (3) Focused and urgent: as with any highly complex and large-scope project, it will founder if not delivered with focus and urgency to see it through to completion. At present, our state lacks comprehensive planning, predictability, focus, and urgency. Top-down leadership from the Governor can go a long way to correcting that and enabling transportation and infrastructure growth that our state needs.

Finally, the focused, organized, and coherent business plan embodied in The Map will help restore our recently decimated state credit rating, thereby reducing state borrowing costs and the additional taxpayer burdens those borrowing costs have imposed.

4. Energy Policy

A thriving energy sector is good for Pennsylvania, and good for the United States.

Low energy cost is important to every family in Pennsylvania. And it is vital to economic development and job creation as well. Energy is one of the largest cost components of manufacturing, and transmission is one of the largest components of energy cost. Therefore, a proximate source of energy is a huge economic advantage for business.

Here in Pennsylvania, we sit atop one of the largest sources of natural gas in the world, with the potential to deliver to the United States complete energy independence from foreign energy supply. We are blessed with extensive coal resources that have supported generations of hardworking families and are now becoming free of unreasonable regulation that have hampered their growth, so they again can be a significant driver of jobs and economic development here in Pennsylvania. We have solar, and wind, and nuclear assets that present a diversified portfolio of energy assets that can be deployed in many different ways.

The state government must be a good steward of this tremendous resource and work collaboratively with the private sector while maintaining rational environmental standards, to responsibly leverage these vital energy assets. Developing our energy sector in a smart way will boost manufacturing, create jobs, make Pennsylvania an attractive place to work and employ people, and overall boost the economy and productivity of our state. Today, Harrisburg is too focused on how to bleed tax dollars out of the industry in the near term rather than how to develop strategies that will maximize the asset to the benefit of Pennsylvania’s families consistent with The Map’s 10-year Plan. Now, tax policy is being used by politicians to solve the immediate fiscal problems created by their own lack of planning and discipline. We should not allow the development of our precious energy assets to be squandered to protect political futures. The future of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania families is what counts, and we need a leader in Pennsylvania who will make sure that the 10-year future of Pennsylvania families comes before the short-term interests of Pennsylvania politicians.

Finally, the development of Pennsylvania’s energy sector is good for not only its citizens, but for the country. Example: Russia is a long-standing threat to the United States, and it derives a significant percentage of its government funds from its sales of natural gas to Europe. Shipping Pennsylvania gas to Europe provides a way for us to fight the Russians with our natural gas, rather than with our brave young men and women, all while providing jobs and economic development to Pennsylvania. Washington is too divided and distracted at the moment to focus on what a tremendous asset Pennsylvania presents to the nation. We need a Governor who can organize the business leaders in the industry and put together a convincing case to be made to Washington about the geopolitical asset present here in Pennsylvania. Developing joint state-federal priorities for the development of our natural energy resources will increase demand and job creation here at home and will support our national security interests around the world. Having worked for a major international firm for 25 years, I understand how those conversations occur, and as a lawyer for 35 years, I know how to make an effective case that wins the day. The Governor needs to be that active and vocal voice in Washington for the people of Pennsylvania.

5. Taxes

Business Tax: In order to be competitive with other states and countries competing with us for business, we need to be competitive from a tax perspective. Yet, with a 9.99% CNI, Pennsylvania is the second most expensive state in the nation to do business. Combined with the world’s highest federal corporate tax rate of 35%, that makes Pennsylvania one of the most expensive places in the world to do business from a tax perspective. If we expect businesses to stay here and to come here, we need to change that. While it appears that some help is coming through federal tax reform, we need to change our state tax structure to be “in the game” when it comes to prospective businesses considering expanding or locating in Pennsylvania.

In order for Pennsylvania to compete with other states for new business, we need to:

  1. Reduce the 9.99% Corporate Net Income Tax
  2. Increase the cap on net operating loss carryforwards
  3. Finish the phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax

In competing for business investment, tax credits and incentive programs are effective when they are just that–short-term incentives meant to “prime the pump,” not ongoing corporate welfare for noncompetitive businesses. Back-end incentive mechanisms such as wage tax credits (used only if a company actually delivers on promised jobs) should be favored over subsidies that determine winners and losers in industry regardless of actual goals accomplished.

We also need to reorganize DCED, which currently operates multiple programs in silos, rather than as one comprehensive plan for the economic development of the state. Using The Map to drive economic development initiatives will deliver more coordinated and effective investments for Pennsylvania.

Property Tax: Our property tax issue is a pension issue; the primary driver of recent increases in property taxes is teacher pensions. We need to address our pension underfunding issue, while keeping the promises we have made to teachers who have worked and saved their whole careers. We will address approaches to the pension issue in a separate briefing document, but it is a problem that was years in the making, and it will take years to correct it. In the meantime, we need to protect our citizens against the harm that flows from the underfunding problem with which decades of politicians have saddled us all.

For example, we should freeze property taxes for any individual who has been paying property taxes in Pennsylvania for at least 35 years. That provides protection for our seniors, who must live on a fixed income and cannot bear the increase of their property taxes.

Finally, we need to break away from the limited thinking that the only choice we have is to raise taxes or cut spending. We must find creative ways to fund important initiatives, including through public-private partnerships (P3s). We also need to find ways to address multiple problems with one fix.

For example, we should explore working with the pension funds to have them invest some of the $73 billion in public pension funds in the development of pad-ready manufacturing sites, giving the Funds competitive return on investment plus dedicated tax revenues for a period of 10 years. This way, the Pension Funds help solve the pension funding problem, while simultaneously growing the pension funds themselves, and also fostering economic development and job creation.

We also should explore selling our state store system and applying the proceeds to pay down the pension underfunding and thereby reduce property taxes. That way, we provide broader selection and availability for our consumers, while simultaneously reducing property taxes, and also shoring up our pension system, which, in turn, results in greater economic security for the many Pennsylvanians who have spent their careers in teaching, public safety, and administration.

Finally, we should be using social impact investing to address difficult public problems. Social impact investing involves the private sector developing actual programs that solve public problems, which the government then “purchases” but only if the program demonstrably works. These solutions not only use private financing, but also private-sector design and expertise in finding solutions to problems. Other states are using these kinds of solutions, but Pennsylvania has lacked the business sophistication necessary to strike these deals to the benefit of Pennsylvanians. A sophisticated business person in the Governor’s chair, with experience in the P3 field, will solve that problem and allow Pennsylvania to develop this new and important funding sector.

6. Regulatory Reform

We currently have a regulatory system that is adrift, on autopilot, accountable to no one. In large part, that is not due to the public servants who work in government; it is because there is no plan, no design, and no sense of urgency to drive toward shared goals. We will fix that problem, as described above, but there are additional steps that we can take to make our regulatory environment more efficient and effective. For example, we need to develop a “Responsible Officer System (ROS)” so that one individual would be responsible for prompt and reasonable determination of regulatory decisions. In order for government to fulfill its role as a customer-service organization, it must provide its customers–its citizens–a clear point of responsibility and accountability. Just as individual citizens calling into a “customer-service” line have experienced the frustration of being shuttled through an endless line of faceless people, none of whom can actually address their problem, so too are our businesses daily faced with the frustration of doing business with a faceless bureaucracy, that lacks any predictability or accountability. We need to change the culture of our regulatory system. That reform would include the following:

  • A Responsible Officer System (ROS) for Regulatory Reform. Every permit application would have assigned to it a Responsible Officer, who would be responsible for navigating internally with the other regulators in an efficient and effective manner and delivering a prompt response to the applicant.
  • Presumptive time limits. All permits should have a presumptive time to decision, with a clear and effective process to elevate issues to a supervisory level whenever those time limits are exceeded.
  • Ombudsman. An ombudsman should exist in every agency to elevate customer concerns and identify trends that identify systemic issues.
  • Customer service. Customer-service training should be conducted in all agencies.
  • Technology and Innovation. Technology should be sued to improve performance and timelines. Systems that work collaboratively with applicant systems should be prioritized to enhance efficiencies.
  • Council Role. The Council on Economic Development will make recommendations every 6 months as to regulatory reforms that would improve economic growth without impeding the safety, welfare, and quality of life of Pennsylvanians.

Government is a customer-service business. If a customer (the citizens of Pennsylvania) isn’t being served, then the business (the state government) has to be changed. None of these reforms require expensive investments. They require discipline and accountability and professionalism, and that is what we will restore to Pennsylvania.

7. Workforce

To grow Pennsylvania and be competitive, our workforce and education programs on The Map must align (both geographically and substantively) with current and future job needs, not be left to wither under stagnant structures because the state government can’t initiate solutions.

Let’s stop the endless discussion about “trade school versus college” and create a solution that solves multiple problems at once. For example, let’s bring together our good trade schools and our Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (“PASSHE”) schools and develop new collaborative 2-year certificate programs designed around the in-demand jobs that already have been identified by a multitude of well-conducted studies across the state. That way, our students actually attend college and also obtain the ability to get a good paying job that utilizes the technical skills they learned during those two years. In addition, let’s allow qualified 11th and 12th graders to obtain college credit by participating in those programs, just as some of our high school juniors and seniors can now participate in college-level classes for academic credit. That way, a student could finish 12th grade with an ability to have a college experience and walk right into a solid in-demand job. This would address the universal desire for a college credential and experience while also bringing students into our underutilized PASSHE schools and help maintain those campuses throughout Pennsylvania. In addition, it would help people earn money for further education, rather than being saddled with huge student debt for decades to come.

To develop curricula that deliver people ready for in-demand jobs, we should foster a system where adjunct faculty members from the private sector are actively involved in developing and/or conducting workforce development programs. Too often, those programs are on autopilot, teaching outmoded skills to unmotivated students. We need to have job creators actively involved in real time in the development and provision of workforce programs, with a specific targeted job opportunity within the view of the program participant.

Under the auspices of the Governor’s office, we also should convene an annual Governor’s Workforce Summit, which would include representatives of the top job-producers in the state, as well as workforce providers and academia. The goal of the Summit would be to identify the job needs for the coming year and to confirm that the programs and academic organizations have curricula in place that will prepare job seekers for those available positions. The Summit also would provide linkages that would foster ongoing active involvement between programs and the business sector.

We also are missing a huge workforce opportunity by overlooking our veterans. Many of our Pennsylvania sons and daughters are serving in the US Military, the majority of them highly trained and disciplined, often with a military spouse who is the same. We should have an organized system of reaching out to those service men and women with Pennsylvania roots, matching their military job codes with the job codes of our in-demand jobs. There currently are thousands of open jobs here in the Commonwealth, and it is the right thing to do – for both our state and for our country – to actively encourage our service men and women to come home to Pennsylvania, and bring with them all of the skills, training, discipline, and commitment to mission that will guarantee their successful transition to civilian life here at home in Pennsylvania.

Finally, our workforce programs must include our young people. We cannot simply tell them about the freedom and dignity that comes from receiving a paycheck. We need to demonstrate that to them. Over the last several years, the Learn & Earn program in Western Pennsylvania has provided thousands of paid summer jobs to kids from many different communities. The founding of that system required the organization of the foundation, business, academic, provider and government communities, but that union produced a quality program for our young people. Programs like that could and should exist in every community in Pennsylvania. And a Governor who has experienced those programs from the inside would also be aware of the changes that are necessary at the state level to facilitate improvement in those programs, including uniform credentialing standards, the creation of “resumes” for kids who participate over multiple summers, and the organized ability to move kids through increasingly more sophisticated job opportunities over sequential summers.

Evaluating workforce training and education by ensuring that our programs are up to date with demand and provide an existing ROI will keep us competitive and keep jobs in PA. It will also provide bright futures for our families and young people and be a material part of delivering on the promise of Pennsylvania for all our citizens. Instead of passively legislating on trite labels and outmoded ideas, let’s keep our kids and jobs in Pennsylvania by providing real and meaningful options to do so. One way to keep people in PA is identifying citizens serving in the military and giving them credentials for skills developed in the military so as to move them into the workforce back home.

8. Education

Two fundamental principles will improve education in Pennsylvania: (1) allow parents and students to choose; and (2) empower teachers to teach.

Education choice: The need for choice is based on two simple truths about people, including both kids and parents:

  1. Not all kids are alike; different kids will thrive in different environments, and they need more than one option to find the place that is best for them to excel.
  2. Parents know what environment is best for their children. Some kids will do better in a large institution; some will do better in a small setting or in a values-based school; some will do well in a structured environment, while others will thrive in a creative self-driven educational setting.
    We need options that enable parents to exercise that choice, including charter schools, Educational Savings Accounts and expanded EITC and OSTC programs, which provide the additional benefits of leveraging private dollars and maximizing local knowledge of institutional strengths.

Empowering Teachers. We all can remember the specific name of a teacher or coach who made an impact on our lives decades ago. That’s because good teachers transform lives forever. Teachers need to be provided the resources, security, and stability necessary to teach in a focused classroom, without the distractions that degrade their ability to exercise their gifts. We need to provide appropriate funding, but we cannot fall into the trap of assuming that throwing money at a problem solves it: some of our highest per-pupil costs are in our lowest performing schools. We need to look comprehensively at operational opportunities that allow teachers to teach critical skills in a focused and effective way and to fund programs that deliver results for our students.

The students must be at the core of everything we do. Our schools exist for the benefit of our kids, and that benefit must be the sole metric that drives our school policy. All investments in schools should be dependent on continued improvement in student outcomes. That is not to say that we will be blind to the fact that some schools face greater challenges with their populations. But we can no longer accept the excuse that some of our children cannot receive an effective education until we solve poverty, or fix the breakdown of the family, or the violence that plagues the communities of too many of our students. We will no longer be willing to sacrifice a generation of our children by accepting those excuses. We must meet our children–all our children–where we find them and develop multi-faceted educational solutions that give them the opportunity to exercise their God-given talents and live a life of independence, dignity, and purpose, regardless of the circumstances into which they were born.

To develop those solutions:

  • We should launch an Education 2020 Initiative, which would unite under one umbrella the many public/private-sector efforts underway to improve education and develop specific recommendations for legislative action or private MOU-based alignments that increase educational access and quality in all of our communities, both rural and urban, by 2020;
  • Pre-K education should be available to any child who wants it; funding would be provided through matching grants to local community organizations that know the providers and can work in collaboration with local educational entities on educational standards;
  • Reading proficiency at grade level should be required to advance past 3rd grade. In some workforce programs today, up to 30% of the high school graduates cannot read; and behavioral issues and dropout rates in high school are directly attributable to the frustration and boredom of being unable to participate meaningfully on a curriculum increasingly dependent on reading. We should correct these problems before they develop by admitting that we help no child by “advancing” them toward a downward spiral;
  • 3rd-grade proficiency should include computer proficiency. The basics of computers are every bit as critical in today’s world as reading and writing were in our parents’ generation, and they will become ever more important in the new information and tech economy. We need an educational system that prepares our students for the future, not for yesteryear.
  • Community service should be an integrated part of our educational curriculum. Not only does it provide valuable real-world experience for the students, but it also instills in them the importance of contributing to our communities, one of the core values of a “Commonwealth” (originally from “Common weal” meaning the good of all). It also provides a way for education dollars to benefit many other sectors of our community and thereby maximizes the benefit of tax dollars;
  • Pennsylvania should provide one week of sales tax amnesty for back-to-school supplies to help families prepare their kids to succeed;
  • We should increase opportunities for “soft-skills training,” including by increasing access to programs for music and the arts in schools. Many students learn from their sports team experiences the critical job skills of teamwork, personal responsibility, creativity, leadership, on-time performance, deadlines, and ownership of an issue. Others learn those skills on a performance stage or in an art studio. We have done a good job of maintaining those important skills training opportunities on our sports fields–less so in our arts programs. We need to recognize that, like sports programs, arts programs develop key soft skills necessary to our new economy;
  • At the higher education level, we need to reward at budget time those institutions that find ways to reduce student tuition without adversely affecting the student experience, by more robust expense management and operational efficiencies. We also should work with those institutions to facilitate the commercialization of their R&D and to more effectively integrate those technologies with our growing tech and advanced manufacturing sectors.
  • Finally, we need to be forthright about the fact that pensions are siphoning off what politicians characterize as “education dollars.” For example, more than 60 cents of every new dollar of “education” spending goes to fund teacher pensions. Most Pennsylvanians think that the education increases touted by politicians are going into the classroom. Not so. We need to be more forthright about how and where our education dollars are being spent, so we can be smarter and more creative about how to actually improve the classroom experience, including by leverage the business sector to come into classrooms with educational programming in a more organized manner.

9. Right to Work

As a matter of both competition and conscience, Pennsylvanians should have the right to work at the employer of their choosing, without having to pay money to a union that they choose not to join.

As a matter of competition, we lose not only potential but existing businesses to other states because those states have passed right-to-work legislation.

As a matter of conscience, no one should be required to pay dues to a union they don’t believe serves their interests, in order to have the right to work in a workplace of their choice.

Our union workforce brings many benefits to the workplaces in the Commonwealth, including in training, safety, and identification of operational efficiencies and innovation. There are many ways that unions and businesses can work together to advance the economic growth of Pennsylvania. But violating individual conscience and liberty to work are not among them.

10. Restore Budget Discipline and Transparency

Most everyone is required to live on a budget: businesses do, families and individuals do, so why do our politicians think they are different?

Since Governor Wolf took office, the Pennsylvania budget process has been a chaotic mess. In fact, this Governor has not signed a single budget in the three years that he has been in office, and in two of those three years, the budget that he allowed to lapse into law without his signature was so overdue that it placed severe burdens on those organizations, like homeless shelters, schools, and social service agencies, that care for our most vulnerable citizens, and had to turn away clients because they had no way of knowing whether they would receive funding or not.

This recent budget cycle was the most disastrous of all, resulting in a credit downgrade that left Pennsylvania with one of the worst credit ratings in the entire nation. As every citizen knows, a bad credit rating means that borrowing costs more. So what did Pennsylvania politicians do? They decided to borrow over 1.5 billion, which cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars more in debt service costs, virtually mortgaging our children’s future. And Governor Wolf is now talking about borrowing even more. The “no tax increases” Harrisburg trumpets are a fiction; the reality is that massive borrowing, done AFTER we killed our debt rating, will cost us money that will need to be paid by the taxpayers.

This year’s budget also raided dedicated funds that had been earmarked for important purposes, like improving our roads and bridges. This robbing Peter to pay Paul happened in 11th hour sessions, months overdue, with the panic of education and social service funding crises looming in the near future, in 900-page legislation that was rushed through with no opportunity for careful assessment or transparency.

And, worst of all, rather than being a budget that is based on taxes derived from our citizens making things, and building things and growing things, this budget is ever more dependent on our citizens smoking, drinking, gambling and, soon, smoking pot. What have we become? And all for what?

For the third year in a row, the Governor has not actively helped to trim spending, or actively participated in the budget process at all. That lack of leadership has resulted on a downward trajectory for our entire state, when by all rights, we should be growing faster than any other state in the nation.

Lack of leadership and lack of transparency in Harrisburg has brought our great state to its knees, and we are being stampeded like cattle over the financial cliff. It is time that we, as citizens said … enough. We need to fundamentally transform how our budgets are created and how our government is run.

On the Budget, as Governor, I would:

  • Veto any spending bill that came without a balanced revenue plan
  • Work collaboratively to develop the Governor’s initial budget
  • Design and keep everyone on time deadlines for on-time balanced budget
  • Not allow “crisis mode” budgets in 11th hour 900-page legislation
  • End the game in which only the “insiders” really know what is in their bill
  • Ensure that spending is consistent with the 10-year plan reflected in The Map
  • Disallow “quick fix” solutions that downgrade our credit score
  • Engage in a 2-year planning cycle to avoid annual crises

Finally, we need to bring Transparency back to state government. We need a top-to-bottom audit of Government spending, which includes an inventory of the state’s real estate assets. Just about everyone can identify a state facility in their community that is underutilized or wasted entirely. Identifying more productive and collaborative uses for existing state properties, or divesting them entirely should be a priority.

Departmental consolidation and the increased use of technology to deliver superior customer service at reduced cost should be pursued by a dedicated Task Force, led by a senior member of the Governor’s staff who has expertise in the technology sector. Public-private partnerships should be actively sought so that we do not have government agencies reinventing the wheel when on the shelf solutions already exist. The technology used every day in the private sector throughout Pennsylvania government is generations behind, and we need to fix that problem by leveraging the expertise and resources of the private sectors already familiar with these systems.

Finally, every agency should be tasked with reducing expenses 3% every year, without adversely affecting the customer experience. The success in achieving this metric should be rewarded at budget time, with priority given to those programs that have effectively controlled their cost structures.

Conclusion

There are many other issues that need to be addressed in our Commonwealth, and those will be the subject of additional pieces in the months to come. But providing an economic environment that generates good private-sector jobs for Pennsylvanians is the first order of business for government. That requires two basic things: a clear business plan and a sound budget process. And the vision, resolve, and experience to deliver on both.

A great American statesman once said: “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice.” It is time for us to exercise the choice to reclaim our destiny from the politicians. As citizens, and as mothers and fathers, and as businesspeople, and as community leaders, and as people of faith, and as those who understand the remarkable neighbors who work every day to make our communities better, it is time for us to step forward and demand a government that is worthy of all of us, and that will put aside all the gamesmanship, and noise and posturing and, instead, focus every day on delivering on the limitless promise of Pennsylvania.

It was on the Pennsylvania battlefield of Gettysburg that Abraham Lincoln recognized the bravery of those who fought there so that “government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” It is time for the people of Pennsylvania to reclaim their government from the politicians and to restore to reality what Lincoln so justly honored: government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Back