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Our opinion: Budget needs shift in direction

We hope our legislators are diligent and thorough as they enter the negotiating season for the state’s 2024 budget.

Because, simply put, the 2024 budget proposed by Gov. Josh Shapiro spends too much money.

The 2024 budget proposal spends about 7% more than the previous year’s budget — which increased spending by nearly 3% over the 2022 budget.

Despite the increases in spending, the proposed 2024 budget still barely addresses court rulings that Pennsylvania’s system for funding public education is unconstitutionally inequitable — rulings with which the state’s leaders, as a Spotlight PA article noted, will have to contend.

Much of what the Shapiro administration does recommend for spending on public education — student-teacher stipends, mental health counseling, dispensing menstrual hygiene products in schools and so on — still seem to side-step the underlying systemic problems with education funding that the courts have mandated the state to correct.

While many of these proposals address real problems and it may be commendable to try to solve these problems, the larger looming problem cannot be ignored.

Rather than a laser-like focus on this approaching problem, the Shapiro’s proposal recommends more money for public transit and for the state’s public universities.

While public transit and public colleges serve a vital need, we believe our state government should be mindful that these systems need to be sustainable without ever-increasing outlays of tax dollars.

To cover the increased spending, Shapiro’s proposal reduces the state’s reserves from about $14 billion to $11 billion — a possibility that should alarm anyone who recognizes that this fiscal cushion is necessary if the nation enters a period of economic hardship. It also relies on revenue from legalizing the use of recreational marijuana — which hasn’t happened and which is far from a sure bet it will.

Relying on money the state shouldn’t assume it will get and on money it needs if the country slides into a recession or depression just to spend more — but not, to any significant degree, on the major fiscal problem the state will face this year is the wrong direction. We hope our state lawmakers will correct Pennsylvania’s course.

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