Dis­or­der in the House: Pa.’s bud­get blues

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - OPINION -

Here’s a lit­tle twist on that old sum­mer home­work standby, “What I did on my sum­mer va­ca­tion.”

Only this time, we’re not di­rect­ing this at stu­dents.

In­stead, we’d like to hear from our duly elected state rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

That’s our way of won­der­ing what ex­actly House Speaker Mike Turzai and his com­pa­tri­ots have been do­ing the past few weeks.

Back in the last week of July, the state Se­nate fi­nally got around to sign­ing off on a rev­enue pack­age to fund the $32 bil­lion bud­get pack­age agreed to when the Leg­is­la­ture barely beat the man­dated July 1 dead­line to have a spend­ing plan in place.

Re­mem­ber, this is Harrisburg. This is not like run­ning the books in your house­hold, or even at work. Dead­lines don’t mean all that much in the state Capi­tol. And you can pass a $32 bil­lion bud­get when you only have $30 bil­lion in rev­enue, the math be damned.

If you’re Gov. Tom Wolf, and you see a re-elec­tion cam­paign loom­ing in the near fu­ture, you don’t bother to ac­tu­ally af­fix your sig­na­ture to the spend­ing plan, which does not ex­actly cater to your wishes. In­stead you let it be­come law with­out your im­pri­matur.

That doesn’t change the math. It still doesn’t add up.

At least the Se­nate stepped up to the plate. It put to­gether a rev­enue plan that al­most ev­ery­one is guaranteed to com­plain about. That’s be­cause ev­ery­one is go­ing to pay more. Led by state Sen. Tom McGar­rigle, R-26 of Spring­field, they even man­aged to do some­thing many have been clam­or­ing for now for years, en­act­ing a sev­er­ance tax on the state Mar­cel­lus Shale drillers. No, it wasn’t the 4 or 5 per­cent that Wolf, other Dems, and even some Repub­li­cans had sought. It’s a lot less, and will gen­er­ate a lot less rev­enue, in the neigh­bor­hood of $100 mil­lion.

The plan also will cost con­sumers more in the form of higher taxes on home gas heat­ing and elec­tric bills, as well as in­creased taxes on phone and cell phone ser­vices.

Even with all that, the vast amount of money needed to close the state’s peren­nial bud­get gap will come from bor­row­ing a huge chunk of money from the state’s to­bacco set­tle­ment fund.

The plan barely passed the Se­nate, get­ting the green light via a ra­zor-thin 26-24 mar­gin. Wolf in­di­cated he sup­ported the plan.

It then went to the House. Which means it went nowhere. The House has not touched it.

That is in large part be­cause Turzai, who may or may not have his eyes on a run against Wolf for gov­er­nor, as well as many Repub­li­cans who con­trol the House just as they do the Se­nate, are loathe to any tax hikes.

It’s why they laughed them­selves silly at Wolf’s first two bud­gets, which had the temer­ity to call for broad-based in­creases in both the state per­sonal in­come and state sales taxes, as well as a healthy dol­lop in the form of a sev­er­ance tax on gas drilling.

It ap­pears Turzai is in no rush to bring his fel­low rep­re­sen­ta­tives back from sum­mer va­ca­tion un­til the end of the month to take up such mi­nor an­noy­ances such as the bud­get dilemma.

In the mean­time, state Trea­surer Joe Torsella has ex­tended a $750 mil­lion line of credit to keep the state’s nose above the ris­ing sea of red ink. And credit bu­reaus are tak­ing a de­cid­edly dim view of the state’s in­creas­ingly fraz­zled fis­cal sit­u­a­tion.

Early in­di­ca­tions are that the Se­nate plan does not have much in the way of sup­port. That’s cer­tainly the case for Turzai. The Al­legheny Repub­li­can con­sid­ers new taxes or tax hikes anath­ema.

He prefers an ex­pan­sion of le­gal­ized gam­ing in the state, as well as his fa­vorite, get­ting the state out of the booze busi­ness and sell­ing off lu­cra­tive li­censes to pri­vate en­ter­prise. Nei­ther po­si­tion is go­ing to hap­pen overnight, which means the state trudges in­ex­orably to­ward the fis­cal cliff.

In the mean­time, back in re­al­ity, state uni­ver­si­ties are be­gin­ning to won­der about their fund­ing, and the state’s credit rat­ing re­mains a dump­ster fire.

We hope Turzai and his pals are en­joy­ing their va­ca­tion. Es­pe­cially see­ing how they con­tinue to be paid while the state’s busi­ness re­mains un­fin­ished.

We can’t wait to read their es­say in the fall.

You know, the one ti­tled, “What I did on my sum­mer va­ca­tion.”

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