Welcome to Pa., land of unfunded state budgets
Welcome to Pennsylvania, the land of unfunded budgets.
You read it right. Our elected leaders managed to do something they have not always done in the past. They put a spending plan in place by the state-mandated deadline of July 1.
But don’t do any backflips or other contortions celebrating such a brave bit of fiscal maneuvering.
Fiscal folly might be a better description.
The Legislature passed a budget. They just don’t know how they’re going to pay for it. We’re not making this up. The state has a $32 billion budget in place. But it only forecasts $30 billion in revenue. No, you can’t run your household in this fashion. People don’t like it when you can’t pay your bills. The state is already getting dire warnings from Standard & Poor’s that the Keystone State’s dismal credit rating could take another hit because of “fundamental mismanagement.”
That’s what they call it when you can’t pay your bills.
In Harrisburg, it just seems to be business as usual.
Gov. Tom Wolf couldn’t even bring himself to put his name on this latest budget mess.
Instead he did the Capitol version of holding his nose, allowing the budget to become law without his signature.
Speaking of business as usual, Republicans are lining up all the usual suspects in their hunt for new revenue to close the $2 billion spending gap.
You can pretty much count on another major expansion of legalized gambling. And they likely will borrow the rest.
Yes, the state that consistently has trouble paying its bills will now dangle more gambling – including possible online gaming and video terminals in local bars and taverns – so that citizens can have just as much trouble making ends meet.
What you won’t see is talk of any possible tax hikes to make up for that revenue shortfall.
That is out of bounds with the Republican leaders in Harrisburg. And since they control solid majorities in both the House and Senate, don’t hold your breath waiting for new tax revenue.
That includes something that more and more people are now willing to consider.
That would be the longtalked about severance tax on natural gas drilling operations in the state. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without such a levy.
Instead, under former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett – who pledged not to raise taxes – the state instead opted for an “impact fee.”
Unfortunately, it does not have nearly the same “impact” as a severance tax. In other words, it doesn’t raise as much revenue.
That is not necessarily a unanimous opinion among the GOP. Some Republicans have long been willing to consider a severance tax. State Rep. Steve Barrar, R-160, of Upper Chichester noted they have even crafted legislation for one, to no avail.
They view the tax on drilling as a way to possibly drill through the fiscal logjam. Many believe if it was allowed to go to the floor for a vote by the full chamber, it would pass.
Count Bucks County Republican Rep. Gene DiGirolamo among those in favor.
“I think it’s the right time to do it,” DiGirolamo said, adding his belief that industry in the state’s Marcellus Shale regions might accept a “reasonable” tax in exchange for some regulatory relief.
“I think there would be a deal and everybody could go home.”
Actually, everybody already went home.
House and Senate leaders sent their members home earlier in the week, albeit with a notice they could be recalled to the Capitol with a six-hour notice.
In the meantime, the state continues to operating on borrowed time.
They’re short on revenue for the fiscal year just ended and looking at more red ink in the budget that just became law.
All of this despite some minor cost-cutting moves in the budget process. And yes, the blueprint actually represents an increase in spending.
It’s time for Republican leadership to allow the severance tax issue to go to a full vote and let the chips fall where they may.
And we’re not talking about gambling chips.