Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The 2015/16 Budget Season is almost over, well… not really

The 2015/16 Budget Season is almost over, well… not really. The June 30 deadline has passed and Republicans in the House and Senate have shown that they have a plan (or at least a rigid ideology) and they are sticking to it.

For the past four years, Republicans who controlled the legislature in both the House and Senate, along with a Republican Governor, passed one irresponsible budget after another. As a result, Pennsylvania plummeted from seventh in job creation to 50th, dead last, the structural deficit grew, education funding was slashed, the state’s bond rating was downgraded multiple times, more than 20,000 teachers and school staff were laid off and are still out of jobs, student test scores dropped, a reasonable tax on the severance of Marcellus shale gas never materialized and local property taxes skyrocketed.
When the results of the Republican’s policies were crystalized in last year’s gubernatorial election, even Republican legislators looked for someone to blame for the abysmal state of affairs. Gov. Corbett became the face of the failures that Republican legislators had promoted and voted for in lock step. Even Republican legislators claimed Corbett was to blame and they were spared the wrath of the voters. You would think they might have sensed the public’s dissatisfaction with their failed policies. But now they are continuing down the same path; lowballing the state’s deficit, over-projecting future revenues, looking for one-time revenue sources and accounting gimmicks, digging their heels in on ideological issues, and refusing to address the budgetary issues that Pennsylvanians want addressed.  The status quo that got us to where we are today is alive and well in the Republican caucus but Pennsylvania cannot afford to continue down the road to ruin.   
Gimmicks won’t put teachers and school support staff like nurses and counselors back in our schools. Avoiding a Marcellus shale severance tax at all costs won’t improve the scholastic climate for all Pennsylvania children and pretending that you can eliminate local property taxes without replacing the revenue won’t provide property tax relief for homeowners throughout the state.
After years of budget cuts and accounting gimmicks, even former Corbett Budget Secretary Charles Zogby conceded that the Legislature and Gov. Wolf would need to generate more revenue for this year’s budget to balance.
Holding the budget process hostage by falsely claiming they need pension “reform” to balance the budget is little more than a bait and switch scam. Act 120 of 2010 “reformed” the pension system by capping and reducing benefits, increasing employee contributions, eliminating early withdraws and more. That has already saved millions and the revised plan is 100 percent solvent and costs three percent of payroll to maintain.  It is the unfunded liability in the old system that is the cost driver and Republican proposals do little or nothing to fix that. Some of their 401 (k) proposals actually make the problem worse. 

Republican plans to sell off one of the state’s most valuable assets, our liquor stores, provide questionable one-time fixes but come with future revenue losses and the increased social costs that occurred in other states that privatized. Even those who do support those ideological issues, but are serious about budget realities, understand that they are one-time funding sources that provide no long-term answers to the state’s budget problems.

The people of Pennsylvania elected Governor Wolf to serve because they wanted change. They want to see a real difference in how Pennsylvania conducts its business. Gov. Tom Wolf has taken an innovative approach that would improve the way the state conducts its business and, in turn, refocus efforts on schools that teach, jobs that pay, and government that works. He has proposed restoring education funding, implementing a fair Marcellus shale tax and providing property tax relief for homeowners. Unfortunately, Republicans continue to perpetuate the status quo and continue to stifle legislative efforts that would move Pennsylvania forward and provide meaningful solutions to our problems.

The people of Pennsylvania did not reelect Tom Corbett. They also did no reelect his policies and agenda, but you would be hard pressed to tell that if you look at what the Republican legislature promoted as a budget this year. This session is shaping up to be like a second term of Corbett without Corbett around. Maybe the real problem is the Republican dominated House and Senate.

Gov. Wolf understands that the people of Pennsylvania elected him because they didn’t want another four years of those same failed ideas and policies.

Looks like it could be a long hot summer…