Baer: Harrisburg's pure political wind

Wolf Consolidating Agencies
Gov. Wolf’s action was nothing to brag about.

George Orwell wrote it better than I can.

In a 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” he wrote that political language is “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Well, pure wind is blowing in Harrisburg.

Your state government, for which you pay, as they say, a pretty penny, continues to fail you, the truth, and the future of the state.

A national analysis released Tuesday by George Mason University ranks Pennsylvania’s fiscal condition 45th among the states.

This came one day after Gov. Wolf allowed a $32 billion state spending plan for the new fiscal year to become law without any means to pay for it.

Why? That’s how your state does business. That’s how it did it last year, too. That why we rank 45th.

Promises of on-time, responsible budgeting that cuts government costs and fixes huge and growing deficits?

Pure wind.

Democrat Wolf’s statement announcing his action touted working with both parties in the Republican-controlled legislature to make “more than $2 billion in cuts.”

That might sound as if the new state budget (if and when there’s a revenue package to pay for it) will be $2 billion less than last year’s.

Not so. Spending actually increases by $54.3 million. A modest .2 percent jump, granted, but it’s still $54.3 million more, not $2 billion less.

And the governor’s office response is: Yeah, well, we managed with savings to avoid a much more massive deficit. In other words, give us credit for not making a dire situation worse.

And I would, were it not for the fact that Harrisburg created the dire situation and those who run Harrisburg own it, were elected to fix it, and aren’t doing so. Plus, the plan Wolf put into law isn’t exactly consistent with the best possible savings.

It includes, for example, a 5 percent hike in operating funds for the legislature: $15 million more, up to $325 million.

I, and apparently Wolf, can’t think of a better use for $15 million than spending it on the very people who brought us to the brink and keep us on a cliff overlooking credit downgrades and insolvency.

The Wolf-enacted spending plan has line-item cuts (or savings) in human services, environmental protection, state parks, drug and alcohol programs, disaster relief, veterans’ homes, and more.

There are no line-item cuts (or savings) to anything connected to the legislature. Not salary or benefits. Not travel or expenses. Not printing costs. Not “caucus operations.” Not “incidental expenses.” Not anything.

Oh, and the House gets a 78 percent bump in money for “postage – chief clerk and legislative journal” costs. That’s $2.2 million more, up to $4.9 million.

A cynic might suggest much of that postage will go on mailers from incumbents to constituents as we enter the 2018 election cycle.

Better seal those mailers tight. Be a lot of wind in there.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are busy avoiding reality and preparing a revenue plan that borrows a lot more and expands gambling a lot more so the state can simultaneously dig itself into a deeper hole while offering its citizens greater opportunity to do the same.

Along the way, you’re likely to hear language from leaders of both parties about doing the right thing to stabilize finances, about cutting government costs but maintaining government services, about more money for education, about responsible use of your tax dollars, all without raising taxes.

Good, you might say.

But this is language about a budget being done with political math; a budget intended not so much to get the state to sound financial footing but to get its crafters to the next election.

And it’s being pushed along on pure political wind.