Penn­syl­va­nia’s bud­get train wreck

The Review - - Opinion - Low­manS. Henry Colum­nist Low­man S. Henry is chair­man and CEO of the Lin­coln In­sti­tute of Public Opin­ion Re­search in Har­ris­burg and host of the weekly Lin­coln Ra­dio Jour­nal. His email ad­dress is lhenry@ lin­col­nin­sti­tute.org

A law­suit has been filed against Gov. TomWolf and the Penn­syl­va­nia Gen­eral As­sem­bly for vi­o­lat­ing the state con­sti­tu­tion by fail­ing to ap­prove a bal­anced state bud­get in a timely man­ner. “It is,” says Matt Brouil­lette, “no way to run a rail­road.” Brouil­lette, CEO of the Com­mon­wealth Cham­ber of En­trepreneurs, along with state Rep. Jim Chris­tiana, and Dauphin County busi­ness­man Ben Lewis have joined forces to file the suit.

At is­sue is the fact the Leg­is­la­ture passed, and Gov. Wolf al­lowed to be­come law, the spend­ing com­po­nent of this fis­cal year’s state bud­get. The rev­enue com­po­nent, as of mid-Septem­ber, re­mained un­ap­proved as leg­is­la­tors grap­ple with an es­ti­mated $2.2 bil­lion gap be­tween ap­proved spend­ing and pro­jected rev­enue.

This type of sit­u­a­tion has be­come stan­dard fare un­der the Capi­tol dome. Last year’s state bud­get cob­bled to­gether rev­enue from sources still not in ex­is­tence to pa­per over the bud­get deficit. That, of course, failed; thus mak­ing the cur­rent year’s bud­get deficit sig­nif­i­cant larger. Talk to most of the play­ers in Har­ris­burg and they will al­lege a “struc­tural bud­get deficit” of over a $1 bil­lion, thus ef­fec­tively adding fuel to Brouil­lette’s law­suit.

Flaunt­ing the state con­sti­tu­tion, which re­quires ever year’s bud­get to be bal­anced and passed by the be­gin­ning of the fis­cal year which is July 1st, is the norm un­der Demo­cratic gover­nors. Bud­get stand­offs tar­nished the ad­min­is­tra­tion of former Gov. Ed Ren­dell, and cur­rent Gov. Wolf has failed to get a bud­get passed on time in any of the three years he has been in of­fice

hy the dys­func­tion? The an­swer is a com­bi­na­tion of rigid con­form­ity among state Democrats and a split per­son­al­ity in theGOP.

Al­though Democrats like to tout them­selves as the party of di­ver­sity, when it comes to public pol­icy they are in fact the po­lar op­po­site. The number of Demo­cratic law­mak­ers in the Penn­syl­va­nia leg­is­la­ture has dwin­dled to the pointwhere they have be­come vir­tu­ally an ur­ban party. Few leg­isla­tive dis­tricts not cen­tered in an ur­ban area are rep­re­sented by Democrats. The cur­rent in vogue ex­cuse for this poor elec­toral per­for­mance is al­leged ger­ry­man­der­ing of dis­tricts by Re­pub­li­cans, but the ul­tra-Left wing tilt of the party is actually more to blame.

The real prob­lem though lies with Re­pub­li­cans. With a ve­to­proof Se­nate ma­jor­ity (34 of 50 seats) and a lop­sided ma­jor­ity in the state­House Re­pub­li­cans rep­re­sent a far more ge­o­graph­i­cally di­verse con­stituency. While a solid ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­li­cans actually vote ac­cord­ing to the party’s low tax and fis­cally re­spon­si­ble prin­ci­ples, a mi­nor­ity of law­mak­ers pri­mar­ily rep­re­sent­ing the Philadel­phia sub­urbs tend to vote more like Democrats.

This was ev­i­dent in the cur­rent bud­get stand-off when 14 Repub­li­can sen­a­tors aban­doned their party to vote for a wide range of tax hikes and ir­re­spon­si­ble bor­row­ing; and in the House only 103 of 121 Re­pub­li­cans voted for a no tax hike bud­get devel­oped by the cham­ber’s con­ser­va­tives. Had Re­pub­li­cans re­mained true to their prin­ci­ples the Se­nate bill would have failed and the House bud­get would have passed by a com­fort­able, rather than by a slim, mar­gin.

Vot­ers too must share in some of the blame. The heavy con­cen­tra­tion of reg­is­tered Democrats in ur­ban ar­eas that pro­duced large Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties in the leg­is­la­ture also elected Demo­crat Wolf as gov­er­nor. Wolf has since been dubbed the “most lib­eral gov­er­nor in Amer­ica” by none other than the Huff­in­g­ton Post, and he has earned that ti­tle by con­sis­tently propos­ing and fight­ing for dra­matic spend­ing in­creases and mas­sive tax hikes.

This com­bi­na­tion of par­ti­san di­vide cou­pled with Repub­li­can schizophre­nia has cre­ated the cur­rent fis­cal train wreck in Har­ris­burg. The an­nual bud­get de­ba­cles clearly vi­o­late the state’s con­sti­tu­tion and, with the politi­cians un­able to re­solve their dif­fer­ences the door is wide open for Brouil­lette’s law­suit to force com­pli­ance with the con­sti­tu­tion.

After all, what good is a con­sti­tu­tion if no­body en­forces it? .

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