State Rep. Dawn Keefer is right. The state’s budget process should be cleaner, clearer and far more transparent. Money shouldn’t be hidden in off-the-books slush funds and legislators should make sure we spend no more than our revenues support.

And legislators need to take a long, hard look at how heavily they tax both individuals and businesses. We’re draining our state dry of talented young people who are fleeing to places where their dollars will go a whole lot further than in their own hometowns.

That’s the contention of Rep. Keefer who has joined Rep. Ryan Warner, to sponsor legislation to implement the Taxpayer Protection Act (TPA).

It takes new eyes like Rep. Keefer’s to see things for what they are. And she’s seen right through the state budget process.

“It’s a sham of a budget system,” she said. “We’re always looking for the next fee or the next tax.”

Keefer recently met with PennLive’s Editorial Board and described her initial days as a new legislator learning the budgetary process. She asked a lot of questions and started making some people a little bit cranky.

It’s easy to understand why Keefer’s questions may be ruffling some feathers. The budget process is admittedly murky, and Keefer is calling for clarity.

It’s murky because legislators can hide money in funds that are not a part of the official budget. And they can dole out the money to special interests that may be key to their political careers or keeping their constituents happy.

Keefer says it’s called “supplemental spending,” which is really spending more than the budget allows.

Plus, legislators can raise fees that are just another form of taxes that hurt individuals, families and businesses.

Keefer would do away with all of the side dealing, increasing fees and off-line accounts. She is co-sponsor of House Bill 1316 that would bring transparency and predictability to the state budgeting process, which many legislators say they want but don’t seem eager to enact.

Rep. Ryan Warner is the bill’s sponsor, but it has been stalled since June, waiting for a vote in the House.

Senate Bill 116, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta, is in the same predicament, awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Their bills would reign in future spending, pegging it to the combined rate of inflation and population growth over a three-year period.

Both these bills would require voters to approve changes to the state constitution once they passed all of the legislative hurdles.

Nathan Benefield, Vice President of Commonwealth Foundation, supports these efforts and believes state spending is directly connected to the exodus of young and talented Pennsylvanians. The cutting edge, new industries shy away from Pennsylvania because of our high taxes, he says, forcing our brilliant young people to find jobs.

Pennsylvania is what he called an “out-migration state, especially among the college educated, working age millennials,” Benefield said.

What that means is the best and brightest young people in Pennsylvanians leave home for greener and less taxing pastures elsewhere.

Pennsylvania taxes each person an average of $4600, which is higher than the national average. “We’ve had five tax increases since 2009,” Benefield said.

Enough is enough already. Until we curtail our spending, lower our taxes and bring some transparency to our budgeting, the commonwealth will continue to repel innovative businesses and watch young college grads leave.

Keefer and her colleagues are pushing to get the TPA legislation passed this spring. We wish them luck.

Harrisburg Patriot News/

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