By Guy Ciarrocchi
In Harrisburg, our elected officials are again participating in the annual ritual of budget negotiations. This continues as our revenue remains stagnant for over a decade. Because of this revenue stagnation, and because of our ever-growing unfunded-pension obligations, Harrisburg officials continue to manage decline.
This must end. It’s time for the business community to step-in and break-up this cycle of managing decline. It’s well-passed the time that we think about a plan for growth. Let’s stop fighting over how to divide up the pie: let’s make the pie bigger.
For far too-long, the state’s economy has tracked at or below the national average. Therefore, the state’s coffers remain permanently stagnant.
Then we go through the traditional played-again script: (most) Republicans look for ways to slow growth, consolidate or privatize services to save revenue; while (most) Democrats look for new sources of revenue to ensure that those with the most resources “pay their fair share.”
One may or agree or disagree with either approach. Yes, many business leaders prefer the “let’s spend wisely” approach; but, neither approach is truly creative. Neither looks to the future, and neither will solve our structural problem.
We have one of the oldest populations in America. We have a staggeringly unfunded-pension fund. And, we have an economy that continues to grow much slower than most states. This is a formula for annual-budget crises and…managing decline.
On the spending side we must do two things: Fix the horribly-broken pension system; and spend every dollar wisely and creatively with minimal expenditure and maximum positive impact.
But, the equally important—if not more important—policy goal must be to Grow our economy. This is not impossible. Companies in the global market know why competitors go to Singapore, China or India. Companies in the national market know why companies expand in Texas, Florida or North Carolina. And, regional businesses know what’s more appealing about Chester County versus other counties.
Businesses need competitive tax rates, common-sense regulations and an infrastructure of energy and transportation to run their businesses and move employees, customers and products. Pennsylvania is blessed with almost limitless natural gas resources (and also coal), wonderful universities, nationally-admired healthcare, easy access to one-third of the nation’s population and access to rail and ports. Many states have far-fewer assets, yet manage to grow faster and smarter.
President Reagan summarized what has become the governing approach of many in Harrisburg: “If it moves, tax it. If it still moves, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.” We must stop looking at growth opportunities as sources of new taxes. We must stop looking at creativity as something that must be regulated. And, we must start investing in those things that help businesses grow—from roads to rails to ports.
We must also create incentives and opportunities for the thousands of college-graduates–many from state-run and state-related universities—to work in our state, to create a business in our state or to raise a family in our state.
The Chester County Chamber is working with our colleagues from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to develop a plan for growth. We invite business and civic leaders—and private citizens—to share their ideas and experiences with us. Our goal is to make this year’s state budget the last budget where policymakers wrestle over shrinking resources.
Fix the Pension System. Spend Tax-Dollars wisely. Foster growth in existing and new businesses. It’s not partisan. It’s not hard. And, we cannot wait any longer.