State budget season has calmer climate
Something unheard of is happening in Harrisburg.
No, they’re not seriously considering reducing the size of our bloated, overpriced, underworked Legislature.
If it’s the second week of June, it must be budget time. The state constitution mandates that our fearless state leaders have a new fiscal plan in place by the end of the month.
But there is a distinct lack of the usual rancor that has characterized budget battles in recent years.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican leaders in the Legislature have been floating compliments at each other, noting that progress is consistently being made, and that they expect to have a budget in place before the deadline.
Compare that to the first three years of Wolf’s term as governor, when he locked horns with GOP leaders in the Legislature and budget standoffs dragged on for weeks. Wolf rode to the governor’s mansion on a mantra of increased spending for education. Which is fine except for one thing. That usually is accompanied by higher taxes to pay for it.
And while the governor’s mansion is inhabited by a Democrat, voters in recent years have consistently increased the Republican majority in the Legislature. And many members of the Capital GOP Corral consider new taxes to be something akin to anathema.
The GOP took one whiff of Wolf’s tax plans – which included a new severance tax on the state’s natural gas industry and at one point even hikes in the state sales and personal income taxes – and immediately turned up their noses.
This went on for years. Wolf would submit a budget calling for increased education funding and new taxes, and Republicans in the House and Senate would laugh themselves silly at even the notion of any new taxes.
So why is this year different?
We can tell you why in one word: November.
Wolf is running for re-election. So is every member of the House. And about half of the state Senate.
Wolf will do battle with one of the leading conservative anti-tax voices in the Senate in former York County Sen. Scott Wagner.
The trash magnate gave up his Senate seat to focus on the governor’s race. Look for him to constantly remind citizens that Wolf wants to hike their taxes.
Likewise, no House member is especially enamored of hitting the campaign trail this summer and fall with a fat, new tax hike hanging around his or her neck, providing easy fodder for their general election foes.
The result? Wolf has largely toned down much of the rhetoric of previous years when it comes to spending – and more importantly, taxes.
He’s abandoned altogether any thought of a general increase that would hit the public squarely in the wallet with a jump in the sales or personal income tax.
No tax hikes. Not much in the way of bickering. No government shutdown. No loss of services. No funding delays.
Of course, another way of looking at this is no serious look at the problematic fiscal issues that continue to drag Pennsylvania down.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for property tax reform.
In fact, don’t look for a fairer distribution of the state’s tax burden, a tax structure that perhaps allowed us to reside somewhere other than the bottom of the heap when it comes to job creation. Maybe a serious discussion about government reform? Not likely.
At this point we’d still settle for getting the state out of the booze business.
That’s not going to happen anytime soon, either.
Instead, we’ll get more of the same.
Remember last year? Our elected representatives did what they always do. Expanded gambling and borrowed money .
This year? Voila, legal sports gambling just fell into their lap.
Now if they could only get out of their way and put the process in place to make it happen.
It’s Pennsylvania, where in election years, everyone makes nice when it comes to the state budget.
You can bet the house on it.