House GOP leads by example
7/15/2014
Editorial by Speaker of the House Sam Smith and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai

Light has long been shining from some corners of Harrisburg as policies driving sustainable job growth, budgetary responsibility, unparalleled investments in education, and consumer choices have been sown.

The Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus has consistently led from the front by identifying both the needs of Pennsylvania's families and children and the requirements for employees and employers and then proactively moving an agenda of responsible solutions.

Relentlessly, the House Republicans have driven a pro-jobs agenda that has clearly taken root and continues to bear fruit for Pennsylvania workers and families. Thanks to House-led measures like tort reform, business-tax reform, and unemployment-compensation reform, the commonwealth's unemployment rate has plummeted from 8.2 percent in January 2011, when we took the majority, to 5.6 percent last month. Not only is this 0.5 percent below the national average, but it is also lower than in nearly all neighboring states.

Recently, the House handed the governor a fourth consecutive, responsible, on-time budget that did not raise taxes on our families, protected our most vulnerable citizens, and increased spending on K-12 education to an all-time state record of $10.5 billion.

Our state spending on public education has increased every year since we took back the majority, up from $8.9 billion annually, which is where it was when Gov. Ed Rendell was last in charge. And we doubled opportunity scholarships for parents who wanted more choice in their children's educational options. This focus on investing in children's education as a priority, while still protecting taxpayers, will allow our children to learn today and earn tomorrow.

This most recent budget continues the House's unyielding pursuit of reforms since taking the majority nearly four years ago. In March 2013, we sent a historic liquor privatization bill over to the Senate to get Pennsylvania out of the sale of wine and spirits like neighboring states, close the antiquated State Stores, and finally move into the 21st century. We had hoped that Gov. Corbett and the Senate would exercise their collective leadership to follow through on this reform sought for so long by Pennsylvania citizens. To date, we continue to wait.

In December, the House used these same standards of reform to pass, for the second straight session, an unprecedented bipartisan constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the legislature, a measure that would streamline government and save taxpayers money. We are still waiting for this measure, for which Pennsylvanians have long asked, to be passed in the Senate.

Indeed, it is this style of leadership - leading from the front - that will be required to reach a common goal of passing meaningful and necessary public pension reform.

The House plan, now known as the Tobash Amendment, would save the commonwealth up to $15 billion over 30 years. It does this in several ways: shifting investment risk away from taxpayers, school districts, and the commonwealth just as the private sector has; protecting benefits earned by current employees and retirees; delivering competitive benefits to new hires; ensuring our unfunded liabilities shrink; fortifying the commonwealth's credit rating; and providing budgetary relief to school districts.

Fortunately, the governor has come out in support of the House proposal, but he and others actually proposed reducing contributions to the pension plans. The House proposal does not. Some, like Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf, have proposed risky bonding and arbitrage schemes, which have led to fiscal disaster in states like Illinois and Connecticut. The House proposal does not. Some have proposed plans that actuaries say exacerbate the level of unfunded liability. The House proposal creates savings for the retirement plans - while still moving new hires into a private-sector-type plan.

Undoubtedly, leading Pennsylvania into the light requires leadership willing to do what is right and not just what is easy. The House Republican Caucus used that standard just two weeks ago when it took action to lead on the Philadelphia School District's financial crisis, reaching across the aisle and putting aside polarizing politics. We passed compromise legislation that would allow Philadelphia City Council to impose a $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes to keep its schools open, along with a needed reform proposal to provide charter school communities with a formal application and appeal process.

Regrettably, the bill we sent over to the Senate came back to the House packed with unnecessary hotel taxes and currently unaffordable economic development provisions, thus forcing our members to take this up once again when we reconvene shortly. It is our full intention to have this issue resolved before school doors open in the fall, as we remain out front and willing to help all of Pennsylvania's children.

For Pennsylvania's posterity, leadership throughout Harrisburg must embrace the House concept of leading from the front on issues that confront all of our citizens, regardless of political party. Whether we see the light depends greatly on the individual and collective willingness of elected officials in both chambers and of both parties to lead in the name of the people whom they serve.

Speaker of the House Sam Smith
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Stephen Miskin
smiskin@pahousegop.com

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