Harrisburg’s latest nonsense started when the feckless, Republican-controlled legislature passed a budget by the June 30 deadline but didn’t say how it was going to pay for it. The lawmakers’ performance has been like watching a bunch of bozos pile into a clown car for a road trip without gassing up.
Gov. Wolf threw up his hands in frustration on July 10 and let the budget become law without his signature. Instead of looking the other way as the legislature sped off, he should have vetoed the document. A spending plan that doesn’t include how to pay the bills is no budget.
The $32 billion “budget” is $2 billion short, but don’t worry. Lawmakers have dreams of plugging the hole with more gambling revenue, fairy dust, and vapor.
The House has the steering wheel as this disaster races toward a fiscal cliff. It met in a rare weekend session in mid-July to discuss revenue possibilities, but Speaker Mike Turzai wouldn’t entertain either raising taxes or cutting spending. He and his hapless crew then flitted off to vacations, exhausted from spinning their wheels.
A few days later, the Senate passed its version of a revenue plan. It included a welcome severance tax on natural gas drillers, but the trade-off is untenable. In exchange for a fracking tax, the Senate would gut already weak environmental regulations and impose taxes on gas, electricity, and telephone consumers.
Last week, Treasurer Joe Torsella took out an unprecedented $750 million line of credit to keep the state fueled when it runs out of money — which is soon.
“Cash-flow borrowing this early and of this magnitude has not happened in the last 25 years,” Torsella said. “As a state, we once again find ourselves in uncharted waters; not only having to borrow so early in the fiscal year, but doing so with an underlying general-fund budget that is not yet balanced.”
The first casualties of this failed exercise government are likely to be state-related universities: Penn State, Temple, Pittsburgh, and Lincoln.
The second casualty will likely be the state’s credit rating. Standard & Poor’s has already issued a warning citing the state’s “eroding financial position.” The credit agency said “there is a significant likelihood that the commonwealth will not enact a structurally balanced budget for fiscal 2018.”
That’s a big problem. If the state’s credit rating is downgraded, it will cost it more money to borrow. That’s like spilling fuel at the gas station. The state can’t run on fumes.
This dire predicament is the result of years of the legislature’s employing irresponsible budget gimmicks like paying bills late. Also blame lawmakers’ childish inability to make politically tough decisions when it comes to raising taxes or cutting spending.
It would be easy to say, let the legislature drive its clown car off the cliff so its members could suffer the consequences.
But the 12.8 million Pennsylvanians who are being taken for a ride need the state to fund schools, social programs, parks, transportation, and other critical services. These neglected wards of a feeble governing body should tell their legislators to stop clowning around with the budget.