Sen. Folmer: Why must government spending grow every year?

I’ve searched both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions and I can’t find it. Where’s it written government must grow each and every year? Why isn’t government expected to live within its means just like people and businesses?

It took 51 Sessions of Congress to pass a $1 billion budget — the “Billion Dollar Congress” of 1889. The first $1 trillion federal budget came in 1987. Today, Pennsylvania spends well over $1 billion on debt service alone.

In 1969, Gov. Shafer branded his proposed state budget “The Fiscal Rubicon” in calling for $492 million in new revenues: “I believe history will not deal kindly with a rich Nation that will not tax itself to cure its own miseries.”

In 1970, spending for a population of 11,800,766 was $357.15 per person. Our current budget will spend $32,714,991,000 to serve a population of 12,823,989, or $2,551.08 per person. Spending increased 614% while population grew by just 9%.

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Consider the state budget I opposed my first year in office: $27,160,000,000, a 4.4% increase over the previous year. When I said state government spending was increasing faster than taxpayers’ ability to pay, Gov. Rendell declared: “He’s certifiable.”

In 2007, welfare and education represented two-thirds of the budget: Medical assistance for nursing facilities, pharmacy services, and managed care; education funding increased 6.2% (to $10.5 Billion), including $5 billion for basic education (a $167 million increase).

Spending under the 2007-08 state budget broke down to $74,410,958 a day, $3,100,456 an hour, $51,674 per minute, and $861 each second.

Under the 2018-19 state budget, the Commonwealth will spend $32,714,991,000, a 2.2% increase over last year: $89,630,112 a day, $3,734,588 an hour, $62,243 per minute, and $1,037 per second. Imagine 10 $100 bills passing through your hands every second. That’s how much the Commonwealth is spending.

Education is again a focus: $100 million more for basic education, $25 million more for Pre-K Counts and Head Start, and $15 million more for special education. School safety continues to be a priority, with more than $60 million in new funding for school resource officers, security equipment, and initiatives to help prevent school violence.

From my first year in office until now, the General Fund has increased by over half a billion dollars a year — a 20.45% increase: from $27.1 billion to $32.7 billion.

Government grows when the economy is good and government grows when the economy is bad. Meanwhile, people must make ends meet as gas, housing, food, and health care costs rise. Unlike government, people can’t make others give them money. Only government has the power to tax.

That’s why I remain committed to my “Taxpayer Protection Act” to restrict the growth of government by limiting spending to three years’ average change in personal income or the rate of inflation compared to population.

The State Government Committee, which I chair, reported out a proposed taxpayer protection constitutional amendment. Full Senate action has not yet been taken on this proposal.

I also co-sponsored legislation to require Zero Based Budgeting to justify each dollar of spending. Agencies should prove the legal need for their actions, quantitatively estimate adverse impacts should these activities be discontinued, and itemize each expenditure.

This year, the General Assembly and Gov. Wolf took a step toward “performance based budgeting” to require departments and agencies to justify budget requests for all existing and proposed programs before receiving any funding.

The goal of this new law is to better question how government money is spent and how much is spent. Taxpayers deserve good explanations when government grows and I will continue to fight for answers and accountability.

State Sen. Mike Folmer is a Republican who represents the 48th Senatorial District.