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Harrisburg should prioritize our needs, not billionaires, with Pennsylvania’s surplus

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Harrisburg should prioritize our needs, not billionaires, with Pennsylvania’s surplus

May 29, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Capital-Star Guest Contributor
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Harrisburg should prioritize our needs, not billionaires, with Pennsylvania’s surplus
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By Steve Paul

Pennsylvania’s state government is sitting on $14 billion of surplus funding, and it’s time for a serious conversation about Republicans’ priorities. While Harrisburg’s Republicans dangle the prospect of tax cuts yet again for the wealthiest in Pennsylvania, our communities face a number of crises, like the housing crisis. 

Republican leaders have said for months that this funding couldn’t be used to help everyday Pennsylvanians. Now they say it can — but for tax breaks for the richest Pennsylvanians. They haven’t proposed any solutions for our biggest problems, like housing. 

Despite clear needs, Republican leaders have continuously ignored practical solutions to address the needs of real people. For example, the proposal in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget for a $50 million investment in the Whole-Home Repairs Program. This initiative isn’t merely about home repairs; it’s about affirming the dignity of safe, accessible, and energy-efficient housing for every Pennsylvanian. It’s about creating jobs that pay well and provide meaningful work.

Counties and nonprofits also use this money for workforce development programs that improve our homes and provide real job opportunities. These programs can include cash stipends for trainees and costs related to the design and implementation of pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships, and publicly funded on-the-job training programs.

So, not only would supporting programs like Whole-Home Repairs (as well as education, public transit, and many other programs) strengthen neighborhoods across the state, but it would also create jobs and spur economic growth—all while leaving $11 billion in the bank.

Typically, House and Senate Republicans would tell you that Pennsylvania just can’t afford to spend any of the $14 billion surplus. That it would be fiscally irresponsible or somehow unethical to use Pennsylvania taxpayer money to help Pennsylvania taxpayers. This has essentially been their baseline argument not only for the past three years since we’ve accumulated the surplus but for decades, no matter how much money Pennsylvania has had in reserve nor in how dire of straits Pennsylvanians have found themselves.  

However, Republicans have recently inadvertently shown their cards. While they still say we can’t afford to adequately fund economic development programs like Whole-Home Repairs, suddenly they claim we are in a position to spend the very same surplus funding to reduce taxes for the wealthiest one percent of Pennsylvanians. 

Pennsylvania’s Republicans’ narrative — that it’s impractical or unethical to use our surplus to support the very people who filled that surplus — is not only false; it’s harmful. They now show a sudden readiness to funnel these resources towards reducing taxes for the elite. This isn’t fiscal responsibility; it’s fiscal favoritism. 

We are at a critical juncture. In a post-pandemic world where our homes have become our sanctuaries, offices, and classrooms, investing in our neighborhoods is investing in our future. Why should we provide thousands in tax breaks to the richest 1% when we could be upgrading our schools, building more reliable public transit, and repairing homes?

Giving thousands of dollars to the wealthiest one percent is not a good idea – and certainly not how we should spend billions of dollars. It’s time to end handouts to the wealthy. Let’s make our surplus work for all of us.

Steve Paul is executive director of One Pennsylvania, a progressive nonprofit organization. 

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