Opinion

Time to get to work on next Pa. budget

A considerable amount of the coverage and commentary about the end to Pennsylvania’s infuriating budget impasse focused on which side of the political aisle got the better of it.

Let’s be clear. Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians got the worst of it. They deserve better. Much better.

After threatening another veto, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday gave up on the stare-down and said he’d let the rest of the 2015-16 budget take effect without his signature. That means the state will at last have a complete budget — nearly nine months after it was supposed to have one and a little more than three months before it’s supposed to have another.

That’s welcome news for local school systems, at least in the immediate sense. Their leaders will no longer have to worry about shutting down schools or borrowing money to keep them going. But that relief didn’t come before school districts had paid more than $40 million in interest and fees.

The final, stitched-together $30 billion budget does contain $200 million more for public schools, half of what Wolf sought. And it includes no broad-based tax increases, which is what Republicans in the legislature were most against.

But it leaves unaddressed a structural deficit that Wolf said could total $2 billion for 2016-17. And it stands as an unprecedented failure of leadership and responsibility, emblematic of the toxic politics of gridlock.

“We need to move on,” Wolf said as he threw in the towel.

The governor’s move avoids a nasty veto battle that Wolf may have lost. Even a growing number of Democrats no longer had the stomach for seeing the impasse do further damage.

That clears the decks for all involved to get to work on the 2016-17 budget. Immediately.

The conditions that created the debacle now ending are still in place, and Pennsylvanians now must cling to tenuous hope that all involved will wise up and act more responsibly. We wish we were more optimistic.

Lawmakers and Wolf might start with heeding the message of a new Franklin & Marshall College poll that found 79 percent of voters believe their elected leaders should compromise to complete the budget. Just 17 percent said elected officials should be unyielding on principles even if the budget doesn’t get passed.

In addition to the structural deficit, the two sides left on the table a number of issues critical to Pennsylvania’s future, including the state’s long-term pension crisis and local property tax reform. Republicans would also like to finally get the state out of the liquor business, something we have long supported.

In divided government, tackling such thorny matters requires elected leaders who are interested in actually governing, rather than lobbing campaign-style rhetorical bombs at each other. It requires bridging differences instead of flaunting them.

Time already is short. And Pennsylvania can’t afford a repeat of the fiasco now coming to an end.

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