PACB President/CEO Nick DiFrancesco (ND): You were recently elected by your colleagues as Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which is quite a daunting task when considering the commonwealth’s $3 billion deficit and $60 billion unfunded pension liability. How are you approaching this session?
State Representative Stan Saylor (SS): I am approaching this session with a desire to re-imagine the way that state government operates. As the Appropriations Chairman, my main focus this legislative session will be to ensure the passage of a balanced on-time budget. We must ensure that we pass a budget that is respectful to the taxpayer while still providing for the needs of the citizens of Pennsylvania. For the 2017-18 fiscal year, Pennsylvania is facing a large deficit and we will have to work together in order to solve this fiscal challenge. This budget will require many hard choices, but I am confident that the General Assembly can come together to solve this problem.
ND: Pennsylvania has to make some tough decisions with regard to our current budget and those in the future. Can you talk a bit about how the budget process has and will change under your leadership and what considerations will need to be made for budgets moving forward?
SS: One of the big focuses of our caucus this year is to reinvent state government. What we mean by that is we need to be willing to challenge the mentality of “this is the way it has always been done” and we need to be innovative in order to solve today’s challenges. One way we can accomplish that is to rethink the budget process. Too often we approach the budget as an exercise in adjusting line-items up or down by a certain percentage. We need to take a more dynamic approach by incorporating performance-based budgeting. Using a performance-based budgeting system, we can force state agencies to justify their expenditures and to ensure that they are hitting certain benchmarks and goals. We need to ensure that we are being responsible fiscal stewards of the money sent to Harrisburg by hard-working Pennsylvania families. Performance-based budgeting is one step in that direction.
ND: What are the top three legislative priorities Pennsylvania must tackle this legislative session?
SS: The top three legislative priorities for me this session are to creating a fiscally responsible and sustainable budget, to enact performance-based budgeting, and to get pension reform done. The need for pension reform is clear. Each year our pension cost goes up by an exorbitant amount which creates budgetary pressure on funding other items like education. Seven years ago, our pension systems cost us $536 million. In the current budget that has grown to $2.84 billion. Our employer contribution rate is now roughly 30% of payroll. This is an unsustainable path. We must reform the system to protect taxpayers from another economic downturn.
ND: You recently held a number of budget hearings on various aspects of Governor Wolf’s 2017-2018 Budget Proposal. Can you take us on a deeper dive of some of his savings and revenue proposals?
SS: One of the things that surprised me about the Wolf budget proposal was the lack of details on how this complex budget proposal would be implemented. The Cabinet officials who testified before us were woefully unprepared to shine some light on things like the impact of the minimum wage, how the proposed lease-back of the farm show would work, how do we realize savings from the proposed department mergers, what tax credits does the governor plan to eliminate, and what the impact on the changes to PACE/PACENET would mean. The Budget Secretary even quipped at one point that the Administration didn’t want to be “overly prescriptive”. Because of this lack of detail, it is hard for the General Assembly to sign off on some of the governor’s proposals.
ND: The House Republican Caucus recently unveiled its own 2017-2018 Budget Proposal. How does it differ from Governor Wolf’s proposed budget?
SS: Going into the upcoming fiscal year, the Commonwealth is facing significant fiscal challenges as a result of mandated cost drivers such as pensions, human service costs and under-performing tax collections. These challenges require innovation and new thinking from the Legislature. We in Harrisburg cannot continually go back to hard-working Pennsylvania families and ask for more money. That is why House Bill 218 represents a new way of approaching the Commonwealth’s budget.
House Bill 218 has a total General Fund spend of $31.52 billion which is a decrease of $246 million from the current fiscal year. This budget does not include any tax increases. The budget will invest more money to our schools with $362 million more going to PreK-12 education. The enactment of House Bill 218 would mean over a $1 billion investment in public education in two years.
House Bill 218 will provide an increase of $8.84 million for our state-owned universities and will level-fund Penn State, Temple, Pitt, Lincoln, and our Community Colleges. Realizing the need for more resources to combat opioid addiction, this budget creates a new $5 million line-item to treat those dealing with this deadly disease. There is also $1 million more to provide naloxone to our local emergency service providers and we have added a new $3 million line-item to provide for more drug courts throughout Pennsylvania. This budget will provide services to 3,910 more individuals with autism or intellectual disabilities and 4,428 more people with physical disabilities. It is important to note that Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability has come out in support of House Bill 218 because of this investment in providing more services.
To pay for this budget, HB 218 accepts many of the proposals in Governor Wolf’s February budget. Roughly sixty percent of the cuts in this budget came from the governor’s proposal. The budget also makes targeted cuts including the elimination of many grant line-items and reduction of many administrative line-items. We believe in leading by example and have reduced the appropriation to the Legislature by 6.5%. This budget will begin the process of stopping corporate welfare by reducing tax credits. The budget will also rely on revenue from expanded gaming and liquor reforms which the House has passed multiple times and we believe are strong alternatives to raising taxes and borrowing more.
ND: You are now in the midst of your thirteenth term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. How has the legislative process changed over the years?
SS: One of the refreshing changes that has occurred has been an increase in transparency. The improvements in technology have allowed us to make it easier for people to understand how their government is operating and because of this increase transparency I have seen more of the people I represent engage in issues that are important to them. The other big change has been increased input from rank-and-file members on the legislation we are debating in Harrisburg. When I first started, the leadership team and committee chairman of the House had tight control on how legislation was crafted. Reforms in the House have helped open that process up to give rank-and-file members more input.
ND: You are involved in a lot of community activities and clubs. What do you like to do most in your spare time?
SS: I am an avid baseball fan and I enjoy going to various different baseball stadiums. I also like taking short trips to historic sites. I enjoy relaxing on the beach when I can usually with a good book.