Capitol Beat

Sen. Scott Martin talks PA budget, Senate GOP tax cut proposal

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Scott Martin was this month’s PA Press Club speaker.

State Sen. Scott Martin at a roundtable discussion in Lancaster in September 2022.

State Sen. Scott Martin at a roundtable discussion in Lancaster in September 2022. Commonwealth Media Services

As state lawmakers in Harrisburg approach the heart of budget season, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Scott Martin spoke on Monday at the Pennsylvania Press Club’s monthly speaker series, outlining the priorities of the Senate Republican Caucus as lawmakers in both parties look to secure policy wins in this year’s state budget. 

Martin stressed the need to advance and enact policies that make the state more economically competitive, while also offering his thoughts on this year’s state budget, the likelihood of private school tuition vouchers being included in the budget, as well as the path that state lawmakers should take on energy policy. 

Martin kicked off his remarks by running through several major pieces of legislation authored and advanced by Senate Republicans this year: a “Grow PA” higher education reform plan, and a bill passed last week that could cut the state’s Personal Income Tax from 3.07% to 2.8%, while also and eliminating a gross receipts tax on electric energy sales.

Referencing Pennsylvania’s existing financial surplus, Martin said Senate Republicans and Democrats have a different mindset on how to use those dollars. 

“If we have this reserve, how about every single taxpayer in Pennsylvania that earns a paycheck – how about we give them relief? That's the tack that we took with the action that you saw the Senate take last week in – actually – a very strong bipartisan fashion,” Martin said.

Martin said policymakers need to position the state for both economic growth and demographic growth, pointing to the state’s aging population. “How we position this state for growth is so critically important,” he said. 

“We have to grow Pennsylvania not just economically, but demographically,” Martin said. “What kind of policy positions will we have that will make folks want to stay here? Make folks from the outside want to come here, plant their roots here, send their kids to schools here? That is the biggest challenge, because it doesn't take someone that (long) to figure out the fact that the numbers just don't add up with where we're going right now. So growth is critically important.”

On the topic of energy policy, Martin said Senate Republicans would prefer to see Gov. Josh Shapiro withdraw his appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s decision to block the state’s entrance into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – a multistate effort to lower emissions from the power sector.

“I think you're gonna continue to see us take the steps necessary to show that we need to really give certainty and point towards growth in terms of our energy sector here in Pennsylvania because of the critical needs of it,” Martin said. “In a perfect world, the governor would withdraw his appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and come to the table and work on energy policy.” 

Martin also addressed this year’s state budget, including whether the budget would be finalized by the state’s June 30 budget deadline. He expressed a desire to make sure that Pennsylvania’s structural budget imbalance doesn’t worsen, and when asked about whether Senate Republicans would renew their push for the inclusion of a private school tuition scholarship program in this year’s budget, Martin said Republicans will advocate for the program “probably 100%.”

He said giving parents the option to choose where their children go to school could help hold underperforming schools accountable. 

“The ultimate form of accountability and education is when you have vested parents who are saying, ‘This isn't working for my kid, and I want to put them in something that works for them,’” Martin said. “That will never falter and will continue to be our push.”

As for when the state budget gets finalized, Martin said he is optimistic and said he hopes it will be completed by the deadline. But with a razor-thin margin determining control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the Senate Appropriations chair wouldn’t make any guarantees. 

“Anything's possible – I just want to leave some wiggle room because we all know what the makeup of the House is,” he said.