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Pennsylvania budget critic says don’t compete with Ohio

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(The Center Square) – Arguably one of the most memorable moments of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s recent budget address came when he demanded Pennsylvania “stop losing to friggin’ Ohio.”

Except, says one of the proposal’s key critics, that’s not the state worth competing against.

“If you want to compete with states – which by the way we are not in competition with New Jersey and New York and forget about Ohio – we’re in competition with North Carolina, Florida, Texas,” said House Republican Appropriations Chairman Seth Grove. “Those are the states we’re competing with. If we’re in competition with New York and New Jersey we’ve already lost because they are the bottom of the barrel.”

To catch up, Grove said the administration must be willing to cut funding for ineffective programs and combine duplicative initiatives – like developing a more robust workforce – that drain resources for each department.

“This governor proposes a new workforce development program in agriculture. That’s another state agency with another workforce development program – none of it is coordinated,” he said.

He also pointed to resistance to adopt “welfare to work programs,” saying he hoped Shapiro would make these changes to bring the state “into the 21st century.”

Welfare reform and steep agency cuts remain unpopular with legislative Democrats, especially in the face of the state’s $8 billion surplus and $6 billion emergency savings accounts. While Grove and other critics say the administration’s aggressive withdrawals from both funds pushes government closer to financial insolvency, Democrats say hoarding the money is unfair to taxpayers.

“I do not want to take any more from the people of Pennsylvania than we need to. Instead, I want to invest in them,” Shapiro said during his Feb. 6 budget address. “It’s time to solve these pressing problems, to meet this moment responsibly and with bipartisan compromise.”

The administration’s longstanding economic position has been that upfront investment in education and workforce development will widen the state’s tax base, and recurring income, by encouraging more people to settle in the commonwealth.