February 10, 2016
Gov. Tom Wolf is caught in a time warp. It’s February 2016, but he thinks it’s November 2015. That’s when he thought he had a “deal” with the General Assembly on a 2015-16 budget.
Earth to governor: There was no deal, there is no deal, and the proof is there is no completed budget for the fiscal year that is seven months old.
Now Mr. Wolf threatens to make matters worse by proposing a 2016-17 spending plan that builds on what he did not get for 2015-16. It’s time to forget the past and move on. Pennsylvania needs governing.
The Democrat picked up his standoff with the Republican-led Legislature where it left off last fall by proposing a $32.7 billion budget for the year beginning July 1. It calls for big tax increases and revival of the so-called “framework” compromise that died in the House. In addition to the $377 million increase in education spending that was in the plan for 2015-16, Mr. Wolf wants to raise the stakes with $200 million more for next year.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed reiterated the position that doomed the current year’s budget and will do the same for 2016-17: “I don’t see any way the House is going to rubber stamp” the governor’s call for an increase in the state income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.4 percent or an expansion of the sales tax to cover more items, enough to bring in $415 million instead of the current $66 million. Mr. Wolf also would raise taxes on tobacco, gas drilling and more.
The details are spelled out in the proposed budget that the governor is mandated to present to the Legislature. He used his speech to warn of a fiscal crisis that he said will hit this year without dramatic changes.
He’s right about that. There is little dispute that Pennsylvania has a structural deficit. So why would Mr. Wolf think the solution to that is higher spending?
In his speech Tuesday, the governor said, “We are going to have to face hard facts.” Indeed. It is a fact that the compromise he favored last fall passed the Senate but not the House, so get over it.
Democrats and Republicans alike must stop looking in the rearview mirror as they try to finish the funding package for the rest of 2015-16 while crafting a spending plan for 2016-17. Pennsylvania is in new territory and the only way forward is a new approach.