Penn­syl­va­nia must get fis­cal house in or­der

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE -

Penn­syl­va­nia’s deficit is at about $500 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san In­de­pen­dent Fis­cal Of­fice.

Stop us if you’ve heard this be­fore.

Penn­syl­va­nia is broke. Again.

Yes, in the Key­stone State ver­sion of a bro­ken record, we are once again swim­ming in red ink.

The lat­est num­bers re­leased in a re­port by the non­par­ti­san In­de­pen­dent Fis­cal Of­fice pegs the state’s cur­rent deficit at about $500 mil­lion. And that’s just to make it through the cur­rent fis­cal year.

The im­bal­ance is ex­pected to bal­loon to $1.7 bil­lion in the next fis­cal year un­less the Leg­is­la­ture takes ac­tion.

So, nat­u­rally, Penn­syl­va­nia does what it does best. It de­cided to bor­row money and keep its fin­gers crossed wait­ing for a so­lu­tion.

The State Trea­sury De­part­ment an­nounced it will cough up an­other $600 mil­lion to keep the state from over­draw­ing on its main bank ac­count.

Don’t we all do that when we bal­ance the fam­ily check­book? That now means Penn­syl­va­nia is $2.2 bil­lion in debt to the trea­sury, hold­ing its fis­cal breath un­til tax col­lec­tions start to flow in.

Don’t hold your breath, folks. The state’s tax col­lec­tions are lag­ging as we stand four months into the fis­cal year. How dire is the sit­u­a­tion? Gov. Tom Wolf said the state may be forced to shut down some of the state’s eight un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion call cen­ters and lay off work­ers be­cause the Se­nate ad­journed with­out pro­vid­ing suf­fi­cient fund­ing.

It’s more than a lit­tle ironic that the first peo­ple to feel the brunt of the state’s lat­est eco­nomic peril is those al­ready out of work, and some state work­ers who may soon be join­ing them.

On Nov. 8, we elected our state rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Ev­ery seat in the state House was on the bal­lot, along with half the seats in the state Se­nate. These folks never lose their jobs. They make up one of the big­gest, most ex­pen­sive leg­isla­tive bod­ies in the coun­try.

It’s about time we de­manded more bang for our buck. Not just bet­ter beer laws. Yes, this news­pa­per has for some time now been a big pro­po­nent of pri­va­tiz­ing liquor sales in Penn­syl­va­nia.

The state has taken some halt­ing steps. Repub­li­cans have pro­fessed their zeal to blow up the Liquor Con­trol Board and turn the whole process over to pri­vate en­ter­prise. Democrats, led by Gov. Wolf, have re­sisted such ef­forts, in­stead look­ing to mod­ern­ize and ex­pand state store ser­vice while adding the con­ve­nience of beer and wine sales in su­per­mar­kets, and adding va­ri­ety in the form of 12- and six-pack sales at beer dis­trib­u­tors. But let’s not kid our­selves. It’s not ex­actly the most crit­i­cal is­sue fac­ing the state.

Not when the red ink con­tin­ues to rise.

Not when pub­lic schools con­tinue to strug­gle un­der an un­der­funded sys­tem that still tilts away from the need­i­est dis­tricts. And not when that “tick­ing time bomb” in the bud­get process — the mas­sively un­der­funded pub­lic em­ployee pen­sion plans — gets closer to det­o­nat­ing ev­ery day.

Take a look at the re­sults of the Nov. 8 elec­tions. For the most part, in­cum­bents held sway and were re­turned to Har­ris­burg.

Repub­li­cans re­tained big ma­jori­ties in both the House and Se­nate.

It’s time to ad­dress the se­ri­ous money is­sues fac­ing the state.

Only then should we raise a glass and cel­e­brate the tiny steps be­ing made to bring the state into the 21st cen­tury when it comes to booze.

Gov. Wolf will de­liver his bud­get ad­dress in Fe­bru­ary. No doubt he will once again call for a va­ri­ety of taxes to cover an in­crease in ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing that has been his hall­mark since win­ning the of­fice two years ago.

And no doubt those calls will be ig­nored by Repub­li­cans who hold the purse strings in Har­ris­burg. (It’s one thing for Repub­li­cans to al­ways op­pose tax hikes, but they’ve done lit­tle to con­trol state spend­ing.)

But one thing is un­avoid­able. Penn­syl­va­nia has a bud­get prob­lem. A very big bud­get prob­lem that is only go­ing to be re­solved by an in­crease in rev­enue — read that as new taxes — or cuts in spend­ing.

Do­ing what we have al­ways done will no longer suf­fice.

It’s time for Har­ris­burg to get se­ri­ous about the se­ri­ous is­sues fac­ing the state.

Bal­anc­ing the check­book should be at the top of the list.

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