As leaders in the General Assembly and the Administration work to find ways to eliminate our current budget shortfall, it is crucial that we proceed in a bi-partisan manner. Most analysts believe that the nation is looking at one of the deepest economic downturns in over a generation - potentially since the Great Depression. While this slowdown took longer to impact Pennsylvania than most states, it is now, without question, having a devastating effect on our revenue situation.
Currently, the commonwealth revenue collections through December are approximately $815 million short of official revenue estimates. Furthermore, revenue analysts project that by the end of fiscal year 2008-2009, we will be faced with a deficit of more than $2 billion.
When you have a deficit, there are only two ways to bring about a balanced budget - you raise revenues or you cut expenditures. I believe that we should address this shortfall by doing what families and businesses do during tough economic times - prioritize our spending and invest in what our core responsibilities are to the citizens of Pennsylvania.
This is an opportunity to re-look at every government program and measure its effectiveness. We can then prioritize our spending in a way most effective for the taxpayers. Once we have done this, we will continue to invest in productive programs while some programs will have to be reduced or eliminated altogether. It is not about whether or not they do some good, it is about what are our priorities. This type of approach is another opportunity to reform state government by being better stewards of taxpayers' dollars.
Raising taxes or cutting equally across the board is the easy way to address our deficit. I would argue, however, neither is good for our economy in the long run and will further delay our recovery. You do not want to take money out of people's pockets during this time and cutting across the board will reduce some areas of government meant to stimulate the economy or help citizens weather this economic storm.
President Obama said in his inaugural address, "It is not about big government or little government, it is about effective government." I could not agree more. By taking the approach, I am suggesting we can make government more effective through measuring the results of our current spending. Ultimately, I believe this will lead to a smaller, more efficient state government that is more responsive to the needs of our citizens.
As long as the General Assembly and the Administration put the taxpayers above political rhetoric, this process will produce a sensible, practical 2009-2010 budget. There are challenges ahead, no question, but we can take this as an opportunity to make government work better for the people of Pennsylvania.
State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, is the state Senate Appropriations Committee chairman. He can be contacted on his Web site, www.jakecorman.com.