Productive budget discussions must include realistic proposals

House Democrats are eager to continue positive and productive discussions with Gov. Tom Wolf and Republicans in an effort to reach agreement on a 2016-17 budget that is truly balanced, fixes the deficit, supports human services and invests in education at all levels.

But to continue to be productive, we must be realistic. Unfortunately, a group of Republican legislators this week broke from reality to put forward a report that is rife with untruths and inaccuracies. Taking discussions two steps back, these Republicans continue to mislead the public that Pennsylvania can pass budgets using short-term revenues, lapsed funds, phantom savings, improper cuts and other gimmicks.

The so-called $3 billion in savings they allegedly found “under Pennsylvania’s couch cushions” is nonexistent. Most of the savings identified in the report are already accounted for in the proposed 2016-17 budget, and are necessary to meet the natural increase in the costs of maintaining current services and paying ongoing bills. Other savings identified in the report are wildly overstated or don't exist at all, such as $100 million (?!) in technology savings within CHIP, or $600 million in savings from pension reform that hasn't passed yet and that won't provide immediate budget savings anyway.

Their large “savings” figure also includes an additional $1 billion cut from human services. This would further devastate state and local programs for senior citizens, people with disabilities, and children and families in need.

Pennsylvania's creditors have been clear: That kind of budgeting is not safe for our state’s economic security. Pennsylvania must enact budgets balanced with sustainable revenues and must make critical payments to education, health care and other human services. It must pay its bills.

The legislature’s failure to do so in the past five years has imposed huge back-door tax increases on Pennsylvanians at both the state and local levels. Legislators calling for more cuts based on false savings rather than a budget balanced with sustainable revenues, fair tax policies and real reforms are deceiving the public and themselves. Their path will maintain the status quo of a broken Harrisburg where too many legislators are tuned into the special interests, not the people or reality.

As we move forward with budget discussions, we encourage this group of Republican lawmakers to talk with us and Gov. Wolf to come up with real solutions to our budget problems, just like many of their fellow Republican colleagues are doing.

Let’s get back to reality.