Some states squander all they can collect from their taxpayers and more as they reward their contributors with fat contracts and government handouts. In Pennsylvania, past budget deficits have resulted in a state debt of approximately $45 billion. The unfunded pension liability for state workers is very difficult to quantify. The low-end estimate is $13.7 billion and the high estimate is $114 billion. This wide range makes it very difficult to determine the actual financial position of our state. Yet even using the higher estimate of debt, Pennsylvania is better off than other states thanks to the efforts of Governor Corbett and the General Assembly. While downsizing government in Pennsylvania is unpopular, it is necessary if we are to continue to be fiscally responsible in these difficult times.
New Jersey and Virginia are other examples of states with governors who understand financial responsibility. They know they can't spend more than they tax. New Jersey's Governor Christie's efforts at budgetary control have been well publicized. There is another governor whose efforts are equally impressive: Governor McConnell of Virginia. When he took office three years ago he quickly slashed the $500 million deficit budget and ended his first year in 2010 with a budgetary surplus of $220 million. He proved this was not a one-time occurrence in 2011 when he ended the year with a $311 million surplus. True to form, in this year's tough economy, he produced a surplus of $129 million. This is a solid track record!
Governors Corbett, Christie and McConnell proved that fiscal responsibility at the state level is both achievable and sustainable. Governor Corbett's new budget addresses many of the fiscal issues facing our state and includes some service cuts. He is on the right track! But more cuts are required to reduce the sales tax burden on Pennsylvania citizens. We must lower the cost of state government and in turn lower the onerous sales tax of 6 percent (8 percent in Philadelphia and 7 percent in Allegheny County). While our sales tax is lower than some other states, sales taxes are a regressive form of taxation. They place an excessive burden on the working poor, pensioners and welfare recipients. Reducing the state sales tax would be a boon to small business as goods and services would be more affordable. I do not want to change our state income tax rate, as it is quite reasonable at 3.07 percent when compared to other states.
After the November elections, the president should take his cue from fiscally responsible states. The federal debt stands at approximately $16 trillion. If the states can balance their budgets, the federal government should also be required to balance their budget without raising taxes. The states I mentioned above worked hard over the last few years to identify government waste and areas for staff reduction. They had to go through each department to identify unnecessary processes and reduce staff. It is time for the federal government to take the best ideas concerning fiscal responsibility from the state governments and apply them across the entire federal government.
One of the best methods to reduce the size of government is to offer retirement and early retirement to those qualified. This worked well in the private sector and should work well in government given their generous retirement program. That is the easy part! The next step, the identification of federal workers who are underperforming, is more difficult and very time-consuming. But it must be done. Anyone who has been to a government office knows that there are many dedicated, hard-working federal employees. There are also some who are coasting, those who consistently underperform and even some who are disruptive in the workplace. These people must be let go. We can no longer afford the luxury of a bloated government. It must be efficient, effective, and provide useful services to our citizens.
As I watched the speeches and actions of the presidential candidates, I can see that they are not addressing the size of government. Even Governor Romney has failed to address the need to right-size the government. Do the politicians need civil service votes so badly that they are willing to ignore what must be done to streamline our government? If Governor Romney wants to be elected to the presidency, then he should develop a platform that emphasizes fiscal responsibility. His current platform is wishy-washy. Unless he makes some major changes to his platform, I do not believe he can be elected.
As for President Obama, the current polls suggest that he can run on his track record and get 51 percent of the vote. He and his supporters are happy to tax hard working Americans to continue his income redistribution program. As in the previous election, many of his supporters will vote for him without researching his platform or his track record. President Obama's energy and charisma is far superior to the drab efforts of Governor Romney. To be successful, Governor Romney is going to have to get fired up. He needs to make rousing speeches that stimulate the electorate. He needs to identify the 10 biggest issues facing our nation and offer Americans real solutions that can be implemented by the newly elected House of Representatives and the Senate.
Romney can no longer smile at the crowds and wave his hand at them. He must have substance! Based on his present performance, he will lose. As it now stands, he thinks if he looks right, he will win. It reminds me of the old Gillette razor blade commercial, 'Look Sharp.'
It is clear to me that the Republican convention in August must offer up candidates who can energize the electorate. Governor Christie has refused to be considered for the presidency in 2012. There are other very good candidates who can effectively compete against President Obama in this election. I believe Governor McConnell is one of them. Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan are also top-notch presidential candidates. Any one of these men will perform better than the bland Mitt Romney. While Mitt Romney is a good man and may make a good president, I do not think he is electable. The other Republican candidates have a better chance of motivating the voters and getting them to the polls on Nov. 6.
As I was reading the current issue of the Hamburg Item (Aug. 1 edition, page A3), I noticed that a local business, J. A. Buffet, allegedly refused to serve a disabled Iraqi war veteran because he was using a service dog to assist him in his daily activities. The dog was properly identified as a service dog and Pennsylvania law permits the use of service dogs in restaurants, theaters, hotels, and other public places. The veteran called the Tilden Township Police after he was refused service and was asked to leave the restaurant. The police issued a citation to J. A. Buffet in the Tilden Ridge Shopping Center for discriminating against a service animal. I hope the business owner learned from this experience and will now accept the handicapped and their service animals in the restaurant.
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