Three things happen each and every year in February.
On Feb. 2, the country's attention is drawn to Punxsutawney for the groundhog's annual weather forecast. On Feb. 14, couples across the Commonwealth celebrate romance on Valentine's Day.
Usually somewhere between these two holidays is a third, less exciting annual event. In early February, the governor delivers his annual budget proposal to the General Assembly.
This year's budget address will be unique, because last year's budget process was much longer than usual. While the state fiscal year began on July 1, Gov. Ed Rendell didn't sign the state budget into law until Oct. 9. That means that, when the governor delivers his new budget proposal on Feb. 9, the current budget will be only four months old.
I believe these unusual circumstances offer a unique opportunity for the governor and General Assembly. Instead of rolling out a bold new budget proposal with tax increases and fancy new programs, I would encourage the governor to keep it simple. This could help to avoid months filled with protracted budget battles and legislative stalemate.
Instead, Pennsylvania should take the current four-month-old budget and simply extend it, making tweaks and modifications where necessary to ensure spending does not outpace revenues. Doing so would empower the governor and Legislature to refocus their attention on the pressing issues facing our Commonwealth, including the economy, health care reform and investments in infrastructure.
By the time Rendell signed the current budget into law in October, Pennsylvania's unemployment rate had jumped to 8.9 percent. Despite billions of dollars in federal "stimulus" spending, the national job market and our local economy have failed to return to previous heights.
Ronald Reagan once said, "Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases. If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it." We have seen that this approach is not working. Now, it's time to try something new.
Pennsylvania must reform its current business climate to encourage job creation. Instead of punishing successful job creators with higher taxes and more regulations, we should promote pro-growth policies.
While national politicians continue to squabble over a possible federal takeover of America's health care system, there are things we can do at the state level to make health insurance more accessible and affordable.
First and foremost, we can implement lawsuit abuse reforms to help drive down the cost of health care. All too often, doctors are targeted in lawsuits because they are believed to have "deep pockets." Every time an ambulance-chasing trial lawyer drags a doctor or hospital into a frivolous lawsuit, it drives up the cost of health care. We can end this practice and bring down costs by enacting commonsense lawsuit abuse reforms.
Finally, Pennsylvania must make a commitment to invest in our aging transportation infrastructure. Our pothole-ridden highways and crumbling bridges require significant and sustained investments. Repairing these assets will create jobs. In addition, Pennsylvania's vast network of roads and highways serve as the veins and arteries of our economy, helping to transfer goods and deliver services across our Commonwealth. It is an essential part of a well-functioning and growing economy.
Pennsylvania can tackle these important issues, but they will likely be ignored if the governor and Legislature get bogged down in another protracted budget battle. For the sake of our Commonwealth and its future, I encourage the governor to refocus on jobs, health care and infrastructure and avoid the quagmire of another drawn-out budget fiasco.
State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, represents the 171st Legislative District, which includes part of Mifflin County.