February 10, 2016
NOT TO UNDULY alarm anyone, but it appears that Pennsylvania never will have a budget again, at least not one from Democratic Gov. Wolf and the current Republican legislature.
Wolf on Tuesday growled at lawmakers, gave them what-for, saying, "Get back to work." Then, close to employing the royal we, said that if they sent him another budget like the ones they like, "I will not be amused."
Not so sure the tactic worked.
Afterward, Senate GOP Leader Jake Corman said, "We're further apart than we ever were." And House GOP Leader Dave Reed said, "I was hoping he [Wolf] was going to come back from fantasy land . . . instead he left for Neverland."
Such was the fallout after Wolf on Tuesday offered another tax-and-spend plan that he says is needed to save the state, while legislative leaders told him to stick it.
This follows the failure of last year's plan to save the state, and (so far) seven months of failure to get a current budget done.
One wonders if Wolf's writing a Trump-like book: The Art of the (Non-)Deal.
I didn't think things could get worse.
But Republican responses to Wolf seemed harsher than normal Tuesday, due in part to the governor's tone in addressing a joint session in the House chamber.
The tone was not conciliatory. It was not let's-work-together warm. It was more verbal flamethrower.
Wolf told lawmakers to start acting responsibly or "find another job."
In response, sustained grumbling from GOP seats morphed into an auditory mosh pit of profoundly negative noise.
Several lawmakers later said they resented being lectured. A few said they'd happily help Wolf find another job.
At issue, as always: more taxes and spending. Wolf wants both. Republicans want neither.
The governor's calling for roughly $3 billion in new or increased taxes to better fund public schools and attack a looming deficit estimated at up to $2 billion and change.
Without more revenue - from income taxes, cigarette taxes, Marcellus Shale, movie tickets, cable TV, and more - Wolf said the state faces "devastating cuts" in education and social services, along with higher local taxes.
"Someone in Harrisburg," Wolf said, "has to start telling the people of Pennsylvania the truth about the mess we're in."
House Speaker Mike Turzai accused Wolf of "fearmongering" and being "out of touch."
While Republicans agree that there's a deficit, they disagree on how to deal with it.
They argue that you don't fix a problem caused by spending more than you take in by spending more. They say Wolf's new $33 billion budget plan increases spending 10 percent above the GOP-passed-but-largely-vetoed budget, an increase many times the rate of inflation.
But Wolf argues that more is needed to address structural budget problems that have led to five credit downgrades in five years by the likes of Standard & Poor's and Moody's, resulting in higher debt-service costs headed to $139 million per year.
When questioned on how to cut the deficit, Corman said, "That's part of the budget process." And Reed said it can be done without broad-based tax increases, using (long the GOP position) new revenue from liquor reform and expanded gambling.
Philly electeds, including Republican Rep. John Taylor, support tax increases for city schools and services, and fighting the deficit.
"The alternative is to cut too deeply," Taylor said.
And Mayor Kenney, in the Capitol for the day, said, "I just hope everyone's better angels will prevail."
Hope is a good thing. But in Harrisburg, hope is as scarce as movement toward a budget deal or anyone's better angels.
This proposal, like Wolf's last one, cannot survive Pennsylvania politics.