It’s no secret that I was one of the few legislators to vote against the 2019-20 state budget.
In addition to spending a whopping 4.7 percent more of your money than last year, there was an $880 million surplus heading into the new fiscal year. From day one of learning you were overtaxed by millions, I advocated strongly to return that money to Pennsylvania taxpayers. Unfortunately, there wasn’t widespread support for that in the Legislature and the budget was signed into law anyway.
The spending plan earmarked millions of dollars for wasteful and fraud-rampant welfare programs and debt servicing for reckless borrowing in the past. Unfortunately, it also increased spending for the operations of the governor’s administration, House of Representatives and state Senate. While the costs that politicians are charging taxpayers for their “operations” was increased, the budget made a 10 percent cut to the Office of the Auditor General, which is responsible for using audits to ensure that all state money is spent legally and properly.
Pennsylvania families are forced to send their hard-earned tax dollars to Harrisburg, and they deserve to know what goes on there. We shouldn’t be increasing funding to programs that lack transparency, increasing budgets for Harrisburg politicians, and cutting resources in offices that exist to root out misuse or abuse of your money.
Instead, Harrisburg should be focused on increasing transparency in as many ways as possible. That’s why I’ve proposed several pieces of legislation in the House to do just that, and I’m hopeful swift action will be taken on these measures this fall.
Three of these proposals would boost transparency and accountability in Pennsylvania’s state-related universities (Lincoln University, Penn State, Pitt and Temple), which collectively receive more than $560 million of taxpayer dollars annually. Despite receiving a large portion of taxpayer funds, these schools are currently exempt from important transparency and accountability laws.
The fourth bill would require government agencies to make meeting agendas — including a list of each matter of business that will be deliberated and/or acted on — available to the public prior to all public meetings. My proposal would require the agenda to be posted at the location of the meeting or on the agency’s public website.
Boosting openness and accountability are not partisan issues and should be a much easier decision to make than spending more of your money. I will continue to focus on transparency this fall and work tirelessly to get these bills to the governor for his signature.
State Rep. Aaron Bernstine represents the 10th Legislative District in Harrisburg.