Hennessey Votes 'No' on State Budget

Cites shifting of lottery funds, excessive welfare spending and cuts for agriculture as reasons

After weeks of delay and back-room negotiations, the state House passed a budget late Monday evening which puts in place a $27.4 billion spending plan for the state’s new fiscal year, once transit spending is considered.  Rep. Tim Hennessey (R-Coatesville) voted against the plan. 

“At a time when inflation is running at 2.2 percent, this budget proposes to grow at a rate of 4.4 percent – twice the inflation rate," Hennessey said.  “And it really doesn’t account for the totality of state spending.  We could have – and should have – done a better job at controlling growth.

“To be sure, this budget slows the rate at which the budget’s been growing in recent years.  But, we missed a real chance to put it under control and set a new and better course.  Our taxpayers would have welcomed that break."

State spending has increased by the following percentages over the past several years:

  • 2003-04: 7.3 percent
  • 2004-05: 5.3 percent
  • 2005-06: 7.0 percent
  • 2006-07: 6.7 percent

“Like all budgets, this one has a lot of good features and funds a lot of good programs, but in the big picture, it made some major changes that I doubt our citizens will appreciate," Hennessey said.  “For example, the transportation plan relies upon a hoped-for approval to toll Interstate 80, which is iffy at best.  The letters I’ve seen clearly lean against the federal government granting approval, and our Commonwealth’s citizens would be left holding the bag for billions of dollars of debt."

In another change, the governor shifted the entire operating cost of the Department of Aging – more than $19 million – out of the General Fund, and uses Lottery proceeds to cover its costs.

“That Lottery revenue was promised to our senior citizens, not to the government," said Hennessey, who serves as Republican chairman of the House Committee on Aging and Older Adult Services.

The House also adopted a brand new proposal by the administration to build a statewide pre-Kindergarten program, one that will cost $75 million this year and many hundreds of millions as it grows in future years.  It was designed to exclude most of the day-care programs currently provided by the private sector and religious and service organizations like church-run and YWCA programs.  While the pre-K program claims to be open to them, its parameters effectively cut those groups out of the loop.

Hennessey pointed to the fact that the budget spends more on welfare than it does on education.  The Department of Welfare would receive $9.67 billion while the state would spend $9.45 billion on Pre-K-12 and related education support initiatives.

“The fact that welfare spending outpaces education spending shows that our state’s priorities are not where they should be," Hennessey said.

Funding for the Department of Agriculture would be cut by more than $4 million, including a 50 percent reduction in the state’s crop insurance program.

“Agriculture is our state’s top industry, but this budget doesn’t treat it that way," Hennessey said.

The budget also cuts funding for the Pennsylvania State Police by more than $7 million, including the complete elimination of a budget line item to support additional state troopers.

The budget failed to provide funding for the cleanup of hazardous sites across the state.  Without additional revenue from the budget, the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund is projected to run out of money by the middle of the current fiscal year.

“We’ll take up this very necessary funding in the fall, but we could and should have done it now," Hennessey said.

In May, House Republicans offered a comprehensive budget proposal that would have funded existing programs, provided increased funding for priority programs and limited overall spending growth to less than 2 percent.  Hennessey voted for that plan, but it was defeated on essentially a party-line vote.

On June 30, Hennessey also voted for a version of the budget passed by the Senate that would have better controlled spending while funding key state programs.

“We tried twice to get a fiscally responsible state budget and stay within the rate of inflation," Hennessey said.  “The version of the budget that passed the House this week does not fund some of our essential state services and still exceeds the rate of inflation and I could not support it."

“We held the line on taxes, which is a good thing for working Pennsylvanians," Hennessey said.
Hennessey also pointed to the restoration of funding for Science In Motion and New Choices, New Options.  Rendell had proposed eliminating funding for these programs in his budget address.  Science in Motion helps rural schools receive science education support from state colleges and universities.  New Choices, New Options helps single mothers obtain education and job skills so they can transition from welfare to work.

The budget passed by the House on Monday also increases by $25 million funding for the highly effective school Accountability Block Grant program.  The program will provide $275 million that schools can use at their discretion to meet their students' needs.  This allows for local decision makers to deal with problems that legislators may not be aware of in Harrisburg.

“Like all budgets, this one included some very good proposals and some not so good ones," Hennessey said.  “I felt the bad outweighed the good so I voted against the plan.  I think it could have been a lot worse, but it should have been a lot better."

Rep. Tim Hennessey
26th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

(610) 380-8600
(717) 787-3431
Contact:  Dan Massing
(717) 772-9845