Budget Surplus Continues to Grow
At a time of unprecedented pain and poverty in Pennsylvania, Rock the Capital Founder Eric Epstein today called on the General Assembly to give back its $172.2 million budget surplus. Epstein believes this would help to meet real human needs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The surplus amounts to 32% of the legislature’s current budget. By law, school districts (with rare exceptions) are not allowed to have surplus operating funds greater than 8%.
The “State of Financial Affairs of the General Assembly” released to the public in January lists thirty-two (32) line items for which the surplus is greater than 100% of the current year’s budget.
“These are accounts that simply don’t need any more money to get through the next year,” Epstein said. “Either they should be zero-funded in the coming budget, or the money should be re-appropriated for priority programs.”
Budget Surplus Could Help Pennsylvanians
For example, Epstein said that hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs and their health insurance for themselves and their families. Additionally, shelters for the homeless and food banks for the hungry face ever greater needs and challenges. Tens of thousands of children lack the needed electronics and Internet connections to learn from home. Cases of child abuse and domestic abuse continually rise.
“There are abundant needs of suffering families in every community. Yet the General Assembly sits on $172.2 million in what can only be described as slush funds to keep members fat and happy,” he added.
To put the $172.2 million surplus in perspective, Epstein said the funds could pay for:
- 215,250 top-of-the-line, newest edition iPad pros @ $800 each
- 521,818 iPads @ $330 each
- 1,148,000 Kids Edition Samsung Galaxy Tab A @ $150 each
- 13,246 ventilators @ $13,000 each
- 296.9 million N-95 face masks @ 58 cents each (23 per capita for 12.8 million PA residents)
Among the line items that have a surplus greater than 100% of its budget is the Legislative Audit Advisory Committee, which released the report. Its surplus of $585,242 (210%) compares with this year’s budget of $279,000. Even before this year’s appropriation, the committee had a surplus of $482,000 from previous years.
“This worthless committee, whose name is an oxymoron, epitomizes the self-centered leadership of the General Assembly,” Epstein said.
“Instead of refusing more money and spending the money it already had, the committee padded its surplus by more than $100,000 last year.”
The worst offender among the major line items, though, was Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). His surplus amounted to 480% of this year’s budget including “contingent expenses.”
Not far behind was the Special Leadership Account of House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana). His surplus amounted to 471% of his budget.
Other major line item surpluses included:
- 368% for the PA Legislative Reapportionment Commission
- 314% for Senators’ “expenses” under the Chief Clerk’s Office
- 285% for the Special Leadership Account of House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny)
- 234% for the House Democratic Appropriations Committee
- 174% for the Independent Fiscal Office
- 141% for the Capital Preservation Committee
“At the very least,” Epstein said, “these funds should be given to the state’s Rainy Day Fund. It’s raining COVID-19, and it’s not going to stop before next year’s budget has to be enacted.”
For more information, readers can view the entire audit report here.
For more information about the legislative slush fund, consult this article.
UPDATE: The Capital-Star picked up this piece as well! It can be viewed on their site.