Last month, the Republican majority in the Pennsylvania House and Senate finally gave Tom in the governor’s office everything he wanted in a budget, including pension “reform.” Unfortunately, they are a year too late. The budget they sent was perfect for last year’s Tom — Gov. Tom Corbett. He left office in January, defeated by an electorate that did not like the impact of cutting education funding on Pennsylvania’s children or the way four austerity budgets increased joblessness for Pennsylvania’s workers and families.
The new Tom in the governor’s office, Gov. Tom Wolf, has a different set of priorities — to restore the education funding cut over the last four years, to give property tax relief to homeowners, and to require gas drillers to pay their fair share through a severance tax. Those priorities, shared by a majority of Pennsylvanians, most definitely are not reflected in the Republican budget.
Four months ago, a newly inaugurated Wolf asked for $1 billion to repair the damage done to education by the first Corbett budget of 2011-12. The Republican General Assembly gave its answer hours before the end of the state’s fiscal year, with an $8 million allotment for schools in a budget patched together by the fiscal equivalent of duct tape, bobby pins and a prayer. Delay a payment here, issue $300 million in bonds with no funds to repay them over there, cross your fingers for higher revenue collections, and — boom — you have a fifth consecutive “keep-the-cuts” budget that would fail to undo the damage to children and working families that lost Corbett the November election.
By continuing fiscally irresponsible reliance on one-time revenue sources and accounting gimmicks, the Republican budget would grow Pennsylvania’s budget deficit to more than $3 billion by the end of next year, leaving the state completely unprepared in the event of another national slowdown.
As a good businessman, Wolf knows you have to be willing to invest in the future, and you shouldn’t cook the books. This budget flunks both those commonsense tests.
The Republican budget reflects the priorities of the legislative majority, not the priorities of Pennsylvania voters. Pennsylvanians want to invest in education and use a tax on natural gas drillers to do it. The Republican legislative majority wants to fully restore $50 million cut from its own legislative line item and to increase funding for the one job creation fund that the legislature directly controls — but not restore most other funding cut, including for education and job creation. The Republican legislative majority is also preoccupied with liquor privatization and pensions, an obsession that is blinding it to the real priorities of the rest of Pennsylvanians.
Pennsylvania faces another fateful budget choice. We know from Pennsylvania’s recent experience that a cuts-only approach is the wrong medicine, particularly in a still weak economic recovery. The failure to take a balanced approach to the budget — looking for both cost-savings and new revenues — ultimately forced deeper and more sustained funding cuts that continue to act as a drag on the state’s economy, making the budget problems we now face worse.
What Pennsylvania needs is sound fiscal management in concert with a budget that makes key investments in education, job creation and communities. What Pennsylvania needs is a budget similar to the one Wolf has proposed, not one that repeats the budget mistakes of 2011.