By Konstantine Fekos
Pennsylvania Republican state Rep. Brad Roae presented a preliminary state budget overview during a town hall meeting Thursday night at the Lew Davies Community Center where he explained budget items and took questions from the general public.
About 30 local residents attended the meeting to discuss the state’s total operating budget, general fund revenues and expenditures and a variety of other issues, including employee pension plans, education funding and legislative redistricting.
While the state budget is still in the proposal stages, the budget overview estimates an approximate total of $71.8 billion between general, federal, motor license, lottery and other funds.
General fund expenditures are estimated at $29.4 billion with the larger percentages spent on education, medical assistance and long-term living and other welfare.
Roae, whose Sixth District includes eastern Crawford County and the cities of Meadville and Titusville, expects an approximate seven-month period of debate before a final budget is passed.
“This is just a starting point,” he said, emphasizing the state’s assumptions of revenue and growth and admitting nervousness about a reported 3.3 percent spending increase compared to last year’s budget, which amounts to an approximate $407 million difference.
The public pension plan is one of several main issues in Harrisburg this year, according to Roae, who calls for reform on the topic, claiming more state residents are eligible for pension than are working and paying into it.
“It’s a tough political issue because it impacts everybody,” he said.
Roae presented his stance on other issues affecting the general population as well, advocating against the expansion under the Affordable Care Act and a 28 cent-per-gallon increase on gasoline to be phased in within the next few years.
“We are going to have the highest gas tax in the U.S.,” he said, predicting an adverse affect on future business prospects in the state as well as current jobs, shipping costs and more. “Most companies look right past (Pennsylvania). We have to be easier to do business with.”
He plans to continue advocating reforms to the state tax structure, business regulations and the labor climate, favoring non-union settings, to help bring new companies to the state and create jobs for existing businesses.
Local areas, however, will still have to rely on state support for issues like school funding, according to Roae.
Using Crawford Central School District as an example, Roae believes in the “hold harmless” system, which allows schools to receive the same amount of state aid despite drops in enrollment.
He estimated at least $6 million less received in state funding under reforms means more even distribution between school districts. Roae called such a loss unsustainable due to the financially depressed nature of the local area.
While he touched on other issues throughout the night, Roae thanked the public for their participation and plans to continue holding local meetings annually around the state budget season.
“As an elected official, my job’s easier when (getting feedback) from the people I represent,” he said.