Lancaster County Lawmakers Implore Governor Wolf to Keep Schools Open

HARRISBURG – Senators Ryan Aument (R-36), Lloyd Smucker (R-13), and Representatives Bryan Cutler (R-100), Mindy Fee (R-37), Keith Greiner (R-43), Dave Hickernell (R-98), Steve Mentzer (R-97), Brett Miller (R-41) and Dave Zimmerman (R-99) today sent an urgent letter to Governor Wolf imploring him to keep Pennsylvania’s public schools open.

The Lancaster County lawmakers have grown increasingly worried that, given the line-item veto of $3 billion in school funding that Governor Wolf did on December 29, 2015, some schools in Pennsylvania may not have sufficient revenue to finish the school year.

“There is absolutely no need to create a crisis,” said Senator Aument. “I cannot, and will not, sit idly by while the destructive nature of politics places students, families and educators in harm’s way.”

The legislators were particularly troubled by recent comments made by the Governor’s spokesman, who said in an interview with Capitolwire on March 15 that Governor Wolf told Democrat lawmakers, “schools are going to close,” and, “If we do not get a final budget that does the things he’s [the Governor’s] been fighting for, schools are going to close soon.”

“We cannot allow schools to close when sufficient revenues are available to fund public education,” said Senator Smucker. “We have a constitutional and moral obligation to act. We should close out the 2015-16 budget and make a clean start for 2016-17.”

The lawmakers encouraged the Governor to sign House Bill 1801 into law, a supplemental spending plan for the 2015-16 fiscal year that restored monies previously vetoed by Governor Wolf. House Bill 1801 is expected to be sent to the Governor today.

“The time is long past that we conclude the 2015-16 budget, and House Bill 1801 does just that,” said Rep. Hickernell. “In difficult economic times, the General Assembly still managed to find an additional $200 million new dollars for our schools, which the Governor should give them by signing this bill into law.”

“I cannot fathom that there is any justifiable reason why any leader would put children, parents and teachers in the position of worrying about a school closure,” said Rep. Fee. “This type of approach to governing is not just unnecessary, it’s destructive, and it only serves as a distraction from the important task of educating our young people.”

Rep. Greiner, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, noted that Act 10-A of 2015, coupled with the spending authorized in House Bill 1801, would provide a total of $10.74 billion for Pennsylvania’s public schools in 2015-16. “Our Commonwealth can be proud of its commitment to education, and I implore Governor Wolf to allow these critical funds to flow now so we can prevent any school from running out of money to operate.”

“I have voted time and again to get these monies out of the State Treasury and into local school districts,” said Rep. Mentzer. “Government should solve problems – not create them – and Governor Wolf not only has the authority, but he has the responsibility to prevent a school from closing.”

Rep. Miller, a former educator, noted that the idea that a state chief executive would knowingly allow a school to run out of money when resources were made available to keep operations open comes close to nonfeasance, or the failure to act where action is required, either willfully or by neglect. “While we may have disagreements over how much more money public schools should receive, there should be no disagreement over whether they stay open,” said Rep. Miller. “The Governor has a duty to act to prevent a crisis, and that’s exactly what he should do.”

“I cannot believe that we are even having a conversation about a school closing,” said Rep. Zimmerman. “I came to Harrisburg to make things better for people and I believed other elected state officials did too,” said Rep. Zimmerman. “Governor Wolf needs to do the right thing and sign House Bill 1801 into law and end this nonsensical situation.”

The legislators noted that they have not heard of any Lancaster County schools that are on the verge of closing, but that protracted 2015-16 budget impasse has placed an additional financial burden on local school districts who used reserve funds to meet obligations.

“This is precisely why Rep. Hickernell and I introduced House Bill 1159 and Senate Bill 807 to continuously fund schools in the event a state budget is not timely enacted,” said Sen. Aument.

“The entire Lancaster County delegation is serious about meeting our obligations to children, parents and educators,” echoed Rep. Cutler. “I can only hope Governor Wolf is, too.”

CONTACT: (Sen. Aument) Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420

Sen. Aument Votes to Finish 2015-16 State Budget

 

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Says Schools, Hospitals, Agriculture Need Help Now

HARRISBURG – Senator Ryan Aument (R-Landisville) today voted for House Bill 1801, a supplemental spending bill that would appropriate an additional $6.05 billion for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which would fully fund the remaining components of the state budget that remain unfunded following a veto issued by Governor Wolf on December 27, 2015.

“The political gamesmanship must end,” said Sen. Aument. “This supplemental appropriation will guarantee that no school shuts down, that no prison opens its doors because of lack of funding, that critical access hospitals and burn centers will continue operations, and that the devastating cuts made to agriculture programs and services are restored.”

The incomplete 2015-16 state budget is entering its ninth month.

After a prolonged impasse in which state government operations had no lawful appropriations, the General Assembly sent Governor Wolf a budget that increased spending by 3.7% on December 23, 2015. Several days later the Governor signed Act 10-A into law, however he also exercised his line-item veto authority to reduce or eliminate approximately $6 billion in spending.

“My vote today affirms my commitment to the people of the 36th Senatorial District to fully fund their state government without unnecessarily increasing their personal income or sales taxes,” said Sen. Aument.

With the restoration of vetoed monies under House Bill 1801, the 2015-16 state budget would spend $30.031 billion, a $872.6 million, or 3%, increase over 2014-15 levels.

Basic education spending would increase $200 million, taking the Commonwealth’s investment for public schools to its highest levels ever, a record $5.93 billion. These new monies for education would be driven out under the bipartisan basic and special education funding formulas.

The legislation also restores funding for the Department of Agriculture, whose budget was reduced by 65% under Governor Wolf’s veto. Funding cuts to community colleges, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and state-related universities would also be reversed.

“While there may be genuine disagreements over how much more money government programs and services deserve, we should all agree that no funding is not the answer,” said Sen. Aument. “Putting schools, hospitals, farmers and others in harm’s way to leverage for more taxes and additional spending is not just inappropriate, it is costly and dangerous,” noted Sen. Aument.

Sen. Aument said he is hopeful that Governor Wolf will either sign House Bill 1801 into law or allow the measure to become law without his signature.

“People need to know that it takes 129 people to make a law, including a majority of the members of the House of Representatives (102), a majority of the members of the Senate (26) and the Governor (1). To date, 128 out of the 129 people have agreed to fund state government.

“I encourage Governor Wolf to join the majority of the General Assembly and the people of Pennsylvania and end this impasse and the threat it has created to our schools, agriculture, prisons, hospitals and health programs.”

Today’s vote marks at least the fifth time Sen. Aument has joined a majority of members of the General Assembly to fully fund the 2015-16 state budget. “I will vote and vote again to get the tax dollars that are stuck in our State Treasury to the schools, programs and people who have had to endure an intolerable situation,” said the Senator.

AUDIO:

CONTACT: Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420

Today Governor Wolf partially vetoed the $30.2 billion budget that the General Assembly sent him on Christmas Eve.

Some highlights of what the Governor line-item vetoed include:

  • Basic Education Funding – Reduced the Basic Ed Subsidy to $2.5B, which is approximately $3.1 Billion less than what the General Assembly appropriated for our schools.
  • Human Services – Eliminated vital lines such as MA Obstetrics and Neonatal Services, MA Critical Access Hospitals and MA Hospital-Based Burn Centers.
  • Department of Agriculture – Reduced overall funding of the Department of Agriculture by half ($100 million) and eliminated a significant number of essential agricultural support programs.
  • Higher Education – Total elimination of all non-preferred appropriations, such as PSU, Pitt, Temple, Lincoln and University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary Activities and Center for Infectious Disease.
  • Corrections – Reduced state funding to State Correctional Institutions by 50%.

I issued the following statement following the Governor’s decision, which you can read here.

To view the Governor’s press conference or read a transcript of that event, click here.

If you are interested in the specific spending line-items that Governor Wolf reduced or eliminated, you can see that information here.

Finally, to view Governor Wolf’s veto statement, click here.

Clearly we will have to continue to work to resolve the remaining outstanding issues for the 2015-16 state budget.  Now that some monies are finally flowing to our schools, human service providers and others who need these critical funds, I am hopeful that the remaining components of our Commonwealth’s annual spending plan can be finalized.

Ryan

Senator Aument Comments on Governor Wolf’s Partial Veto of State Budget

HARRISBURG – Senator Ryan Aument (R-Landisville) today offered comments on Governor Wolf’s partial veto of House Bill 1460, legislation that would have enacted a compromise $30.26 billion budget to fund state government operations for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

“Today Governor Wolf did what he should have done six months ago – release state and federal monies to our schools, human services and other critical state programs.  I applaud his decision to keep school doors open and finally help the people he was elected to serve,” said Sen. Aument.

Unlike his previous vetoes of the entire General Appropriations Act, the Governor exercised his line-item veto authority on the spending plan sent to him on Christmas eve, choosing to advance approximately $23.4 billion of the $30.2 billion that was appropriated in House Bill 1460.

“The good news is that some money is finally flowing out of the State Treasury,” said Sen. Aument.  “The bad news is that Governor Wolf continues to create problems through his vetoes and remains committed to finding ways to raise taxes on the people of Pennsylvania.”

In exercising his line-item veto authority, the Governor chose to eliminate nearly $100 million that was appropriated to the Department of Agriculture, including programs that are critical to the success of family farms and agricultural operations.

“The Governor owes the people of Lancaster County an explanation as to why he made this decision,” said Sen. Aument.  “Agriculture drives our region and our state’s economy – it’s the top industry.  Why in the world would you punish agriculture?”

The Governor also eliminated $940 million out of $1.8 billion that was earmarked for the Commonwealth’s corrections institutions.  Again, no reason was offered.

One of the largest cuts Governor Wolf made was to basic education.  While the General Assembly appropriated $5.6 billion for 2015-16, the Governor used his line-item veto authority to reduce that to $2.5 billion, less than half of what the schools should have received.

“There is no justifiable reason for the Governor to so radically eliminate funding for schools,” said Sen. Aument.  “The budget the General Assembly sent him included an additional $405 million for schools, something he should have welcomed.  Instead, he marked up basic education funding with his veto pen, eliminating monies for school children and creating a future school funding crisis.”

Sen. Aument noted that other areas of the budget that were reduced or eliminated altogether by Governor Wolf include diabetes programs, monies for regional cancer institutes, programs for services for children with special needs, hemophilia, lupus, regional poison control centers, trauma prevention, epilepsy support services, bio-technology research, Tourette syndrome, funding for ALS support services, and other health research and services.

Governor Wolf also eliminated monies appropriated for medical assistance (hospital-based burn centers and critical access hospitals), as well as medical assistance capitation.

“It makes no sense why Governor Wolf would target these vulnerable populations,” said Sen. Aument.  “I find it unconscionable that he would fully fund his own Governor’s Office and elect to short-change these vital programs.”

Until today’s action, the budget impasse was the longest ever recorded in Pennsylvania, leaving the Commonwealth to be the last state in the nation without an enacted spending plan.

In his press conference touting the partial veto of the state budget, Governor Wolf called House Bill 1460, “a ridiculous exercise in budget futility,” “garbage the Republican legislative leaders have tried to dump on us,” and an “exercise in stupidity.”

Sen. Aument noted the legislation, which was supported by some Democrat lawmakers, reflects the realities of Pennsylvania’s economy and the ability of taxpayers to fund their state government.

“Governor Wolf should tread lightly on his rhetoric,” said Sen. Aument.  “The General Assembly is the assembly of the people, from all walks of life, from every corner of our Commonwealth.  When he calls us ridiculous and stupid, he really is calling the people of our great state those names.  I honor those that I serve, and as our Governor, he should as well.”

CONTACT:  Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420

Aument Urges Senate Leaders to Move Beyond “Budget Framework” and Resolve Budget Impasse

HARRISBURG – Senator Ryan Aument (R-Landisville) today sent a letter to Senate Republican Leadership urging them to work towards a budget plan that protects taxpayers and provides immediate relief to school districts, human service providers and all those who depend upon state and federal monies for continued operations.

“Unfortunately, it appears that the ‘budget framework’ has fallen apart again,” said Sen. Aument. “It is well past time to get state and federal monies flowing from the State Treasury.”

Sen. Aument noted that the tentative “budget framework” that was agreed to by Governor Wolf and leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives called for additional taxes to support significant spending increases, which was requested by the new Democrat Governor. In exchange, Republicans would gain the Governor’s support for public sector pension reform and some form of liquor privatization.

On Saturday, December 19th, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected public sector pension reform. “There is no justifiable way to explain increasing taxes and spending if we are not controlling costs,” said Sen. Aument. “It’s time to put aside those issues which encapsulated the ‘budget framework’ and squarely focus on enacting a general appropriations bill, which is long overdue.”

In his letter to the Republican leaders, Sen. Aument noted that the people, through their elected representatives, have clearly taken the position public sector pension reform should not come at the expense of additional taxes to support more government spending.

“This has been the problem all along,” said Sen. Aument. “If the only way to solve longstanding financial problems like public sector pensions is to ‘buy’ the support of the Governor, Pennsylvania will be bankrupt before we actually solve any problems. These commonsense reforms and policies shouldn’t be held hostage so we can grow the size, scope and cost of state government.”

Senator Aument has been a strong supporter of public sector pension reform and has voted twice since joining the Senate for sweeping overhauls to the existing programs that have crippled state and school district budgets.

Sen. Aument also encouraged the Republican leaders to craft a revised 2015-16 state budget, set apart of the “budget framework,” or support the enactment of a stopgap funding mechanism. He told the Senate leaders that further delay is unacceptable.

“The people should not be a victim to any Governor who would try to capitalize on divided government. While there are genuine disagreements between the General Assembly and the Governor, it is unconscionable that anyone would put people, schools or other critical services in harm’s way for more taxes,” said Sen. Aument.

Sen. Aument concluded his letter to the Republican leaders by encouraging them to advocate for an agenda in 2016 that focuses on state policies that build a stronger Pennsylvania by promoting individual freedom, strong families, vibrant communities, high quality schools and the free enterprise system.

“We can create a society where everyone has opportunity,” said Sen. Aument. “That is why I came to Harrisburg, not to raise taxes on working people and small businesses and promote unaccountable spending.”

CONTACT: Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420

A Season of Giving, Hope and Reflection

 

With Christmas only a few days away, Hanukkah already underway and Kwanzaa just about to begin as well, we have a unique opportunity each year to enjoy time with family and friends in celebration of the holiday season.

This time of year is showcased by the spirit of giving and hope, where we put others first and acknowledge the many blessings we all enjoy.

The end of the year also offers us a time of reflection.

As I consider 2015 – my first year serving as your State Senator – I am troubled by how divisive and unproductive our state government has become.

For example, while families are preparing for the holidays, lawmakers and Governor Wolf are still in Harrisburg working to finalize the 2015-16 state budget, which was due on June 30.

Certainly, the disagreements are real and the results are consequential.

Governor Wolf continues to demand higher taxes to accommodate significant increases in spending and refuses to sign into law public sector pension reform unless those demands are met.

Last week, in an effort to end the budget impasse, the Senate passed a $30.8 billion budget that seeks to accommodate the Governor.

Every single executive department in state government was given additional money, and an incredible $400 million more for public schools was appropriated.

To accommodate the additional spending, the Senate’s compromise budget would necessitate a minimum $1.2 billion tax increase.

While I want to finalize the budget, end the impasse and get money flowing to our human service providers and schools, I could not in good conscious vote for this plan.

How can taxpayers afford the growth of state government when the two largest cost-drivers in our budget – education and human services – are increasing by nearly 8% in one year?

This doesn’t even account for the 50.5% increase for the Department of Community and Economic Development, 5.6% increase for the Department of Corrections, 17.2% increase for the Department of General Services, 10% increase for the Department of Health, 24% increase for the Department of Labor and Industry, and 7.4% increase for the Department of State, to name a few.

We must do more than just talk about controlling the cost, size and scope of our government.

Another key component of the new budget deal is the additional new money for schools.

However, when I reviewed how these new funds would be distributed, the money disproportionately flowed to some schools over others, heavily favoring the Philadelphia School District, which gets a whopping 10.1% increase over last year ($100 million more).

While making massive hikes in government spending at all levels – to include school districts – we ought to be doing all that we can to ensure these dollars benefit students and drive student academic achievement. This school code bill falls woefully short of the reform and accountability needed. In fact, this bill makes punitive funding cuts to families exercising educational choice to attend a cyber-charter school of their choice, and did so prior to receiving feedback from a funding commission designed to evaluate appropriate levels of funding.

I voted against this measure as well.

The Senate also passed another public sector pension reform bill, which would significantly reduce the defined benefit program that has crippled state and school district budgets.

While I voted in support of this legislation, I am greatly troubled by the inclusion of the recalculation of the state’s current pension liability. In plain-speak, state government is seeking to remortgage the pension debt again, pushing current pension obligations to future generations which will have to be repaid at a higher, long-term cost.

One glaring omission from the many bills that have been passed by the Senate to implement the budget is the taxes needed to pay for the spending increases. Being considered are a myriad of new taxes, including an expansion of the sales tax base, possible increase in the sales tax rate, cigarette and other tobacco taxes, to name a few.

I do not know how or when the budget impasse will end, however I do know that it has been an incredible honor to serve as your State Senator this past year.

I am thankful for all those that took time out to contact me by email, phone, sending a letter or by visiting. I have said it before and it deserves to be repeated, you are my best resource for carrying your voice to our State Capitol.

While this past year has highlighted many differences, I remain convinced that if we focus on those things we do agree about – building an opportunity society for all Pennsylvanians by promoting individual freedom, strong families, vibrant communities, high quality schools and the free enterprise system – we can achieve great things, together.

I certainly wish you and your family an exceptional season of giving, hope and reflection.

Aument Votes Against Increasing State Spending, Votes For Reducing Costs

Senate Bill 1073 Spending Proposal

HARRISBURG – Senator Ryan Aument (R-Landisville) voted against Senate Bill 1073, legislation that would appropriate over $30.8 billion to fund state government operations for 2015-16.

“My vote today was in support of taxpayers,” said Sen. Aument.  “This agreement may be the best compromise that our legislative leaders could make with Governor Wolf, but it spends more money than we can afford and will ultimately ask the people of Pennsylvania to pay more for their government.”

Senate Bill 1073 was introduced as a compromise to the ongoing budget impasse that has lasted for over six months.  It was negotiated by leaders of the caucuses in the House of Representatives and Senate.  Yesterday, Senators were privately briefed on the details of the plan, which was voted today.

“Time and again elected leaders talk about controlling the cost of government,” said Sen. Aument.  “Yet, when you consider the increases contained in Senate Bill 1073, you can only draw one conclusion – all levels of state government are getting bigger and ultimately, the bill will come due to pay for these decisions.”

Supporters of Senate Bill 1073 heralded the measure as the only viable way to end the ongoing budget impasse.  They also noted that the legislation fully funds the state’s current structural deficit, makes “historic” new investments in education and allows the Governor to enact into law public pension reform.

“Structural deficits cannot be fixed by spending more money,” said Sen. Aument.  “The fact that our Commonwealth overspent last year should be a clear indication that we need to slow the growth of state spending, not accelerate it.”

Sen. Aument also noted that while the legislation appropriates an unprecedented $350 million new dollars for basic education (6.3% increase from last year), $60 million funding increases for early childhood learning, and $50 million increase (5% increase from last year) for special education, when he reviewed how these new monies would be driven out to individual school districts, the results disproportionately favored some schools over others.

“I came to the Senate to fight for Lancaster County, not Philadelphia,” said Sen. Aument.  “I cannot justify casting my vote to give the Philadelphia School District over $100 million more (a 10.3% increase) when schools in my district do not realize anything close to that increase.”

The Senator also questioned the wisdom of providing so much new money for schools without enacting corresponding educational reforms.

“I will not celebrate spending hundreds of millions of more dollars for schools when so many students and parents are telling me that what they really want is higher quality education and better student outcomes,” said Sen. Aument.  “Spending more money is the easy road to take, and I think we should focus on doing the hard work of reforming our educational system.”

Sen. Aument also expressed concern about the increased taxes, which will be considered by the General Assembly in the near future.  “Someone has to pay for these spending increases,” he said.  “And unfortunately it will be the people of Lancaster County and Pennsylvania, who, I believe, would prefer we do more with less, not do less with more.”

“I do not take lightly voting against this spending bill,” said Sen. Aument.  “We must get money flowing out of the State Treasury and into vital programs such as human services and education.  However, that cannot be done in a manner that further burdens taxpayers and promotes an unsustainable growth in state government.”

Senate Bill 1073 passed the Senate 43-7 and has been sent the House of Representatives for concurrence.

Immediately following the adoption of Senate Bill 1073, the Senate considered Senate Bill 1082, legislation that would transform the public sector pensions.

“I was proud to support public sector pension reform,” said Sen. Aument.  “This is the type legislation that the people expect us to enact – one that promotes fairness to existing and retired public employees, but that finally ends the current costly defined benefit system that is not financially sustainable.”

Under Senate Bill 1082, new public employees would be shifted into a hybrid “side by side” pension benefit system that utilizes a significantly reduced defined benefit and a traditional 401(K)-style program.  The changes would also affect lawmakers.

“The current cost of public sector pensions is crippling the state and school district budgets and this legislation will greatly help fix that problem,” said Sen. Aument.  “However I am extremely concerned that Governor Wolf indicated that he would only sign this bill into law if the General Assembly gave him the spending increases and taxes that he requested.  No Governor should demand more spending and taxes to enact necessary reforms like this.”

Senate Bill 1082 passed the Senate 38-12 and has been sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

CONTACT:  Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420